By Jordy Yager - 02/09/10 09:34 PM EST
For those who don’t smile at the thought of trudging down salted, snow-caked marble stairs and across streets sloppy with the brown slush of a three-day-old snowfall, The Hill offers this guide to the maze of underground tunnels that runs beneath Capitol Hill.
No matter how much you love being outdoors in the snow, when you reach your office and strip out of your Abominable Snowman outfits, it’s not easy to muster the motivation to bundle up again just to go across the street to the Capitol. But how many people opt to use the tunnels, only to get lost?
So with another fresh blanket of snow upon us, The Hill helps negotiate the labyrinth of tunnels that was designed for just such an occasion.
This tunnel might be one of the more artistically vibrant, with artwork from students from across the country decking its walls. It’s a heavily trafficked footpath when Congress is in session, with lawmakers, staffers and reporters racing to and from the House floor during votes. Unlike some of the other Capitol tunnels, it has no subway line.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) is a frequenter of the Cannon tunnel, and he even has a preferred elevator bank at the tunnel’s end. He takes the elevators near the Capitol carryout and the vending machines; he says they’re not as busy as the ones on the opposite end of the hallway.
Getting to know the Cannon tunnel
At the entrance to the tunnel from the basement of Cannon you can find a separate hallway tunnel to the Longworth House Office Building. This hallway also leads to the post office, the credit union and the Longworth cafeteria.
Also in the vicinity of the Cannon entrance are the Cannon carryout cafeteria, the shoe shiner and cobbler and the Legislative Resource Center.
To exit the Cannon tunnel into the Capitol, you ascend a carpeted ramp and follow the hall to the right until you see a mirror-ball hanging from the ceiling.
The Rayburn tunnel is farther underground than the Cannon tunnel. You have to descend an escalator or take an elevator down to reach the tunnel’s entrance on the sub-basement level of the Rayburn building.
The tunnel has both a subway line and a footpath, and you will see lawmakers using both. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has a second-floor office in Rayburn, and he says he’s a fan of walking the tunnel rather than taking the train because it gives him time to think and allows him some midday exercise.
Getting to know Rayburn tunnel
Lining the walls of the tunnel’s footpath are the seal and flag of each state and territory.
At the Rayburn end of the tunnel, there are two large white replicas of the sculpture pediment that rests atop the outside of the House side of the Capitol. One is titled “Agriculture” and the other “Peace Protecting Genius.”
To exit the Rayburn tunnel into the Capitol, you take the escalator and then an elevator to reach the basement level. The CVC and Capitol carryout are on the left, and a path to the Senate is on the right.
All of the Senate tunnels originating from the Hart, Dirksen and Russell office buildings converge underneath the Senate at the bottom of two escalators, with an entrance to the CVC branching off to the left.
Getting to know the Senate tunnels
There are two sets of subway cars. The newer, window-enclosed subway cars service the Dirksen and Hart buildings. The older, open-air subway cars service the Russell building. The footpath services all three buildings.
The footpath is decorated with flags and seals of each state.
Many senators seem to prefer the subway to the footpath, but at least a handful — like Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) — are regular walkers.
The Capitol Visitor Center
This is the biggest and newest mousetrap in the Capitol’s tunnel system. House Democrats had a caucus meeting in the CVC basement last week, and several lawmakers were aimlessly wandering around the expansive wing in search of the meeting room. Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) were being led around by red-vested CVC employees, and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) was ascending an escalator while Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) was descending it — both thought they were headed in the right direction. The Architect of the Capitol recently posted more signs to direct people around the CVC, following reports in this newspaper that lawmakers continued to get lost in it.
Getting to know the CVC basement level
Like the Capitol, the CVC is split into a House and a Senate side and divided among three floors. The third floor has press galleries, recording studios and press conference rooms. The second floor has committee rooms and presentation rooms. The first floor is reserved for member meetings that require privacy and is also the U.S. Capitol Police’s new home base.
The CVC’s tunnel system is more open and airy than the Capitol’s. It feels more like the hallways in the office buildings than a maze of tunnels.
To get to the CVC from the Cannon tunnel — At the end of the tunnel is a podium with a CVC employee wearing a red jacket. Take a right at the podium, walk down the hall and go through the set of double doors. Newly posted signs will lead you to the CVC.
To get to the CVC from the Senate tunnel — Upon reaching the end of the Senate tunnel’s footpath or exiting a subway car, take the immediate left through a set of double doors (do not go up the escalator directly in front of you). You are now in the Senate side of the CVC. Follow newly posted signs.
Despite newly placed signs with directional descriptions and arrows, it is still common to get lost in the CVC. Luckily, CVC employees can be spotted by their red jackets and have become adroit at pointing people in the right direction.