Capital Wheel soars high as it spins

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This wheel soars high as it spins

It's the new kid on the block of must-visit sites in the Washington area. The Capital Wheel, a large Ferris wheel built on the Potomac River's Maryland shore, opened on Friday.

As many as 336 riders fit onboard the wheel's 42 cars for the 12-to-15-minute sightseeing thrill. To the north, riders will see the Washington Monument and other landmarks. To the west, they'll see planes zooming in and out of Reagan National Airport. Below, they'll see the piers and shops of National Harbor, where the wheel has been under construction since January. One of the cars, which are called gondolas, has a glass floor!

"You go almost 200 feet up above the river. The views are spectacular," said Gabriel Sloane, the senior project engineer.

Views of the wheel will be just as awesome. "There are 1.6 million LED lights on this thing, which is pretty cool," Mr. Sloane said. "Kids are going to love that." More than 16 million color schemes can be programmed into the light shows.

Several Ferris wheels have popped up in recent years. One of the most famous is the London Eye, which opened in 2000 and is one of Britain's most popular paid tourist attractions.

The Capital Wheel is about half as big as London's, but it can carry more people per hour. Ticket prices start at $11.25.

Erecting the wheel during the harsh winter was a challenge. Barges carrying the steel framework and large crane took longer to make it from Baltimore because the Potomac and parts of the Chesapeake Bay were frozen for three weeks. Workers hustled to make up the lost time.

The wheel will operate year-round -- unless Mother Nature has other plans.

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