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Arlington Cemetery Explores Options for Expansion

By Kevin Wilcox

A team moves forward with planning and design of a complex expansion of the venerable military cemetery outside the nation's capital.

August 19, 2014—Officials at Arlington National Cemetery are moving forward with the planning and design of an ambitious and complex expansion project to the south of the cemetery that would accommodate military interments there until approximately 2056.
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Arlington National Cemetery is moving ahead with planning and design work on a potential 39-acre expansion to the south on land formerly occupied by an office complex known as the Navy Annex. The addition would be a high-profile site with a sloping landscape. Rendering courtesy of HNTB Corporation

Arlington National Cemetery has been the United States's most hallowed ground since 1864, when Union soldiers fighting in the civil war were first laid to rest on the grounds of what had been Confederate General Robert E Lee's estate, Arlington House. The cemetery is the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as the final resting place of two presidents and four chief justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The cemetery is currently pursuing a smaller expansion to the north on contiguous land that will extend the capacity to accept interments until 2035. The larger expansion to the south could ultimately encompass three parcels totaling 39 acres.

The Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—the lead on the project—recently awarded a contract to HNTB Corporation, which is based in Kansas City, Missouri, and has an office in Arlington, for architecture and engineering services in the planning and design of the expansion. HNTB had previously prepared a master plan for the cemetery that included the expansion and plans for how best to integrate it into the current infrastructure.

The master plan, with the tagline "honor, remember, explore," not only develops a seamless integration of the expansion area into the existing cemetery, i also addresses a number of concerns regarding existing cemetery land, according to Brian Pieplow, AICP, LEED-AP BD+C, the military projects director for HNTB.

"Arlington National Cemetery has between 27 and 30 funeral services each weekday and between 6 and 8 services on Saturday," says Pieplow. "It's a very active cemetery as well as a major visitor destination. They get about 4 million visitors a year." The master plan examined how to better serve families attending funerals and improve the visitor experience while accommodating daily cemetery operations.

A large portion of the southern expansion would be located on land formerly occupied by a massive office complex known as the Navy Annex. Those office buildings have been demolished and the site cleared. The expansion would be relatively straightforward were it not for the fact that the site is separated from the cemetery by Southgate Road and bisected by Columbia Pike and Joyce Street.

"Right now, the three parcels of land are not connected physically to Arlington National Cemetery. One of the things we are trying to examine is how can you connect those parcels. Can the existing Southgate Road be abandoned to allow the site to connect to the cemetery? Can traffic be accommodated in another manner? Those are some of the studies that will be moving forward," Pieplow says.

Because such a move would involve complex cooperative efforts with the Virginia Department of Transportation; Arlington County, Virginia; and many other stakeholders, the master plan proposes an option of developing the expansion in three steps based on the complexity of each road move.

Alternatively, the land could be connected to the cemetery via a bridge, but Pieplow notes that that option would create concerns about access by funeral processions and raises aesthetic issues. "This will be a very visible edge of the cemetery. It will be a very prominent visual landmark. That becomes very important," he says.

The site encompasses a pronounced slope, beginning at a low point near Joyce Street and rising approximately 80 ft to the plateau once occupied by the office complex. The geotechnical conditions are complex and will require a full investigation.

"There are a lot of slope conditions that need to be evaluated and designed. There are some soil slippage issues that are going on right now...that need to be addressed and stabilized. There will be a full geotechnical investigation. Having a stable land form is very important," Pieplow says.

He notes that there are a number of engineering options available to stabilize the slopes without compromising aesthetics. Many are already employed seamlessly in other portions of the cemetery. "For example, on the sloped ground area between Arlington House and the Kennedy family gravesite, there are a series of underground structural walls to help keep the hillside from moving," Pieplow says.

Another challenge will be developing a construction plan that impacts the busy cemetery as little as possible. "[When] people are going to visit the graves of a loved one or attend a funeral service, you don't want to impact that solemn experience with noise and dust and vibration and major construction activity," Pieplow says. "That's frankly going to be a large part of the considerations—how construction sequencing and staging occurs—particularly if there is also going to be concurrent transportation rerouting and realignments."

The consulting team will include PWP Landscape Architecture, of Berkeley, California, the landscape architects; NRW Engineers, of Virginia Beach, the structural engineers; and McCleskey Mausoleum Associates, of Buford, Georgia, as the cemetery consultant. As the project is just moving beyond the master plan stage, a timeline has yet to be developed.


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