In a nail-driving ceremony for what could be a nail-biting election, senators on Wednesday officially initiated construction for the Jan. 20, 2005 presidential inauguration.
When finished, the West Front of the Capitol will be ready to welcome more than 200,000 expected to attend the 55th presidential inauguration. Hundreds of thousands more will line the parade route and watch from afar on the Mall between the Capitol and Washington Monument.
Regardless of whether it is President Bush or Democratic challenger John Kerry who is sworn in next January, "inaugurals show that we as Americans support our basic democratic ideals, that we respect our leader, we revere our leader's selection," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman said there will be seating for 12,000, with others standing. He said $2.8 million has been appropriated for inaugural costs, although the total cost of inaugural events, the parade, parties, fireworks and security costs, is far higher. In 2000 President-elect Bush took in $40 million from campaign donors for his inaugural celebration.
There's also major construction taking place on the East Front of the Capitol, where a new visitor center, one of the largest projects in the Capitol's history, is being built.
The center is not scheduled to be opened to the public until the summer of 2006, but half of the hole for the three-story underground facility has been covered and paved so that it will be ready for the inauguration. Motorcades of the president-elect and other dignitaries are to arrive on the East Front, which will also be used for security and other support functions.