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Capitol Visitor Center Hits 1 Millionth Visitor

One million people have visited the Capitol since the Capitol Visitor Center opened on Dec. 2 — more than double the number who visited during the same period one year earlier.

Terrie Rouse, the CVC’s chief executive officer for visitor services, announced the benchmark in a press release Thursday.

“We’ve worked hard to provide a welcoming entryway to the U.S. Capitol for the many visitors from around the world who come to see the legislative branch of our government at work,— she said. “We hope that these visitors have left the Capitol feeling more informed about Congress and the history of the Capitol and more involved in their government.—

The 580,000-square-foot CVC opened in December after a decade of planning and construction. Chronically behind schedule and over budget, it opened with a final price tag of $621 million and the promise that it would funnel all visitors through one easy, secure entrance.

Prior to the CVC, fewer visitors came to the Capitol, but they spent hours outside waiting for tours. Now, the average wait time is six to 10 minutes, according to the press release, and they have access to a new cafeteria, gift shops and an exhibition hall.

During the Cherry Blossom Festival, from March 28 to April 11, 187,000 visitors came to the CVC, averaging 15,500 a day. The peak day since opening was April 20, with 19,500 visitors, according to the release.

To accommodate them all, acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers has asked Congress for money to hire five new tour guides and 15 visitor assistants in fiscal year 2010.

But the sudden influx of tourists hasn’t been without controversy. A few months ago, more than 50 Members of Congress signed a letter complaining that packed CVC tour schedules sometimes precluded their offices from giving constituents staff-led tours.

CVC officials added more time slots for such tours, and spokesman Tom Fontana said all such tours were accommodated during the busy April recess.