Army secures more space for Arlington Cemetery, still likely to run out of space for GWOT veterans

A soldier prepares to pass the rifle at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.

The U.S. Army has informed Arlington County that it will no longer pursue a land exchange with the County.

The Army has said it will use the entire former Navy Annex site, along Columbia Pike, to expand Arlington National Cemetery.

“While we are disappointed that Arlington County will not receive any land in this area for County needs through a land exchange agreement, we are committed to working with the cemetery to support one of our nation’s most cherished and hallowed sites,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said.

The Army’s decision means it intends to retain all federal land at the former Navy Annex. It also will acquire for the cemetery about five acres of public land now owned by Arlington County and more than seven acres of public land now owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia that support the existing transportation network. The Army originally had proposed, and Arlington had worked for years to achieve, a land exchange agreement. The agreement would have provided Arlington with land south of a realigned Columbia Pike that the County had hoped to use to meet a variety of public facility needs.

“There will be no land exchange, but Columbia Pike and Southgate Road will be realigned and the Columbia Pike/Washington Boulevard interchange will be modified,” Schwartz said. “The realignment of Columbia Pike and the multimodal improvements that will be made in this corridor not only will improve the transportation network, but also will allow us to upgrade the streetscape that will serve as a fitting boundary for Arlington National Cemetery, the Air Force Memorial, the Pentagon Memorial Visitor’s Center, and other uses in this segment of the Columbia Pike corridor.”

The realigned Southgate Road will carry traffic coming to and from Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall. The Realigned Columbia Pike will be rebuilt in a manner consistent with the County’s Columbia Pike Multimodal Project, as a four-lane roadway with a sidewalk and a shared-use path, improved landscaping, enhanced lighting and undergrounding of utilities.

Those who currently wish to be interred at the iconic burial site may be out of luck if they live a long life- Arlington National Cemetery is projected to run out of burial space in the early 2040s and the burial plots have become increasingly competitive, with the military proposing changes to the criteria for Arlington interment in order to stem the high numbers of individuals wishing to be buried there.

In May, the Army proposed an option for stricter criteria for in-ground burials while maintaining eligibility for above-ground inurnments as it is now. For example, in-ground burials could be restricted to servicemembers killed in action, who die on active duty or receive certain awards, while above-ground services would remain open to veterans who meet length-of-service requirements, according to the report, according to Stripes.

The roadway realignment and the land that will be acquired from Arlington County and the Commonwealth will provide 38 more acres of contiguous burial space to accommodate approximately 50,000 more burial spaces, extending the closure date of the Cemetery until the mid-2050s, based on the current demand and interment rates.

With no sign of the Global War on Terrorism coming to an end after sixteen years, it is likely that many combat veterans will not be able to be buried at the cemetery. Officials believe if the cemetery is restricted only to Medal of Honor recipients and servicemembers killed in action the cemetery could remain active for the next two centuries.

The County now will negotiate with the Army to ensure that Arlington and its taxpayers receive fair compensation for the County-owned land as the Army pursues its acquisition, Schwartz said. The County also will work with the Army to commemorate historic Freedman’s Village in a meaningful way at a site as close to the original site of the village, as possible. The original village was located just north of the Navy Annex site.

Freedman’s Village, a camp of former slaves, was established by the federal government in 1863 on the grounds of the Custis and Lee estates, which later became Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and the Navy Annex Building.

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