Arlington Cemetery to debut new area with space-saving pre-dug burial plots
The 6,000 pre-dug graves, with their concrete crypts inches apart just under the surface, are ready. The 16,000 spaces in the new niche wall and columbaria are waiting. And the area has been decorated with new redbud, locust and magnolia trees.
In a few weeks, Arlington National Cemetery will host the first of an expected 27,000 funerals in its elegantly landscaped expansion, built into a hillside and designed to extend the cemetery’s life for more than 30 years.
The $81.7 million Millennium Project is the first geographic expansion of the cemetery in four decades.
And it was badly needed. Facing dwindling space and heavy use, the 154-year-old cemetery is desperately working to extend its life before the day when there is no room left.
Without the expansion, “we’d be planning to close in the mid-2020s,” said Renea Yates, deputy superintendent for cemetery administration. “So this takes us out to the 2040s.”
Still, under current rules and conditions, the cemetery’s life span appears limited. “Most veterans from the recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror will not have the option to be buried” at Arlington, the cemetery wrote in a report last year.
The 27 new acres in the northwestern part of the cemetery were carved out of a recreation spot for an adjacent military base, a construction staging area and National Park Service woodland.
“You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of cubic yards removed from the site,” Army Col. Mike Peloquin, the cemetery’s director of engineering, said in a recent interview.
Some trees were taken down. Shrubs were added. New numbered sections were created. And a new grave digging procedure was inaugurated.
“This is the first location at Arlington National Cemetery where we used a technique ... where you have what’s essentially a concrete box, doublestacked, with a lid to get to the lower one that you get to from the inside of the upper one,” Peloquin said.
The crypts were then placed close together and covered with about 2 feet of gravel, fill and topsoil, said David H. Petrie, construction control representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The process eases grave opening and makes for greater efficiency. The new section also has room for traditional in-ground burials and in-ground burial of cremated remains.
The expansion involved the movement of huge amounts of earth, 1,200 feet of a historic sandstone wall, and the construction of extensive granite and concrete committal shelters and walkways.