The Army has proposed a plan to annex the Air Force Memorial grounds and realign one of the busiest bus thoroughfares in the county in an effort to expand Arlington National Cemetery.
The Army Corps of Engineers is racing to increase burial capacity at the cemetery, which will run out of space to accommodate veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars by the 2040s if current practices continue.
The Army announced a plan last summer to annex a 70-acre area called the southern expansion, which includes the Air Force Memorial, part of Columbia Pike and some undeveloped, grassy areas.
The new plan could add between 40,000 and 60,000 burial spaces, extending the cemetery’s active life into the 2050s, the Army says.
In addition to extending the life of the burial grounds, the plan will reorient roads in the heavily-trafficked area.
The Army’s draft environmental assessment plan released Wednesday shows what the area may look like in 2025 — and during the proposed four-year construction time frame.
If you commute in the area, the first significant impact will likely come from construction slow-downs around Columbia Pike, the busiest bus route in the county which connects Arlington, D.C., Crystal City, Court House and Fairfax County. That construction could start in 2021, if the plans are accepted.
Planners project that the changes will relieve traffic congestion once construction is completed, but didn’t detail how exactly Columbia Pike would be affected during construction.
Proposed changes to the roadways in the area include:
- Columbia Pike would be realigned, lined with trees and, in conjunction with an Arlington County plan, better optimized for bicyclists, bus traffic and pedestrians.
- The Columbia Pike/Washington Boulevard interchange would be reconstructed. The Army says clover-shaped loops would be rebuilt as a tight diamond, which planners say will cut down on the number of car crashes in the area.
- Part of Southgate Road would be demolished. An access road called South Nash Street is proposed, and planners hope it would deter cut-through traffic in the Foxcroft Heights neighborhood.
- South Joyce Street, one of a few streets that crosses I-395 without going into the Pentagon area, would be demolished north of Columbia Pike. Drivers could instead take the new access road to Columbia Pike instead.
The Army says it’s highly important that the roads in the southern expansion area undergo realignment so the cemetery won’t be fractured by traffic.
"It is a model for essential operations and cemetery image — ease of access, safety, security, and for a sense of belonging to the ANC 'community' for families of loved ones," the Army draft report said.
Most of the new burials would surround the Air Force Memorial site, which is set to be folded into the Arlington National Cemetery grounds and trimmed from 3 acres to 2 acres.
The monument itself wouldn’t be changed, but vehicles would no longer be able to drive directly to the site. Planners hope to offset this inconvenience by building a parking garage nearby and ensuring the site is compliant with disability laws.
The Army looks to complete the project by 2025.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asks the public to submit comments on this plan through Sept. 22. You can comment by sending an email to SouthernExpansion@usace.army.mil or mail to Kathy Perdue, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District, 803 Front Street, Norfolk, VA 23510