Cemetery expands Arlington to add more than 30k spots

Motorists traveling by Arlington National Cemetery along Route 110 the past few months may be surprised to see earthmovers scouring the landscape and trucks busily moving tons of soil about the hallowed grounds.

The cemetery holds an average of 27 funerals a day. That turns out to be more than 6,400 burials a year in 2,000 new sites. The majority of these burials are held in the Columbarium or in existing gravesites.

The cemetery first started to consider expansion in 1967 according to Superintendent John Metzler. Land Development 90, so named because the construction was slated to begin in 1990.

“Budget restraints and other priorities delayed development until now,” Metzler said. “One of the things I was asked to look at it in 1998 was to extend the cemetery for 100 years.”

Work started in May and will develop the land, roads and utilities on some 40 acres over the next 18 months. The project will cost about $12 million.

The development will yield 26,000 new graves and 5,000 niches along a boundary wall. Landscaping will occur during the second phase. Each acre yields approximately 800 gravesites. The newly developed area will provide ground burials up until 2030.

Two additional projects will start in 2008 and 2010 respectively. The Mill-ennium Project in 2008 and the Navy Annex expansion in 2010 will enable the cemetery to hold ground burials until 2060.

The Millennium Project will develop three separate parcels. The Park Service gave 12 acres of woods west of the Lee Mansion, to the cemetery a-year-and-a-half ago.

The cemetery has plans to develop half of the acreage along with the Fort Myer picnic area along McNair Road. The area around the cemetery's old warehouse, in back of the Fort Myer motor pool will also be part of the Millennium Project. The superintendent said the cemetery wall would be brought right up to McNair Road.

The Navy Annex development would begin as early as 2010 or maybe not until 2014 according to Metzler. This segment of the cemetery expansion is tied in with the Pentagon renovation. Some offices are using the annex while construction is ongoing on the five-sided building.

The cemetery is also looking at all potential land between Routes 50 and 110 and Columbia Pike.

Ironically, these possible additions would roughly recreate the boundary of the original Custis-Lee estate from which the cemetery and Fort Myer were formed. This would include Henderson Hall and additional real estate.

Metzler recognizes the vital role of one of the Army's showcase posts.

“There is always going to be a Fort Myer,” he said. “There is a central need for Fort Myer.”

The superintendent will leave the extremely long-term issues for later cemetery officials, but he did admit at some point in the distant future there would be difficult decisions to make.

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