Federal officials this week moved to acquire a large parcel of land south of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia for a planned massive expansion of the well-known military site, designed to extend the site’s use as space issues threaten its future.
Department of Justice officials on Monday filed paperwork to grab the land, currently owned by Arlington County, through eminent domain powers. Army officials (who oversee the cemetery) estimate the move will provide about 49 acres of space for up to 60,000 additional burial sites in coming years.
Monday also marked the 156th anniversary of the cemetery, established in 1864 in the wake of the Civil War. Over its existence, the site has evolved into one of the most hallowed military locations in America, housing grave sites of casualties from every military conflict.
In a statement, federal officials said the move would allow the cemetery to “continue to serve as a burial ground for America’s fallen well into the future.”
Nearly all of the land is currently unoccupied, with the exception of several roadways. Officials plan to reroute traffic in the area and construct new streets to accommodate the project.
Army leaders for several years have said that without major changes at the site, burials will cease within the next two decades.
The southern expansion project is expected to cost $420 million. It will also connect the Air Force Memorial site into the existing Arlington Cemetery campus.
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In lieu of trading other federal property for the land seizure, the Justice Department filing calls for multiple civic improvements in the area, to include new bike and pedestrian paths and improvements to community electrical infrastructure.
About 7,000 former troops and family members are currently interred at the cemetery each year. Along with the expansion project, leaders have proposed expanding above-ground storage of cremated remains and severely limiting eligibility.
Veterans groups have protested those eligibility changes, but the expansion project has received broader support.
Typically, more than 3 million visitors travel to the cemetery each year, but the site has been closed to nearly all visitors except family members since March, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
About Leo Shane III
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.