March 14 (UPI) -- Work is scheduled to begin next year to expand Arlington National Cemetery as burial space is running out.
The cemetery will grow southward in Virginia on property formerly occupied by the Navy Annex. The plan will add 37 acres and "extend the cemetery's active life," Karen Durham-Aguilera, the cemetery's executive director, said Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.
The expansion will allow for 40,000 to 60,000 more spaces for first interments, according to a Defense Department news release.
The Navy Annex site was first identified in 1998 as suitable interment space due to its location and existing Department of Defense ownership, the Army Corps of Engineers recommended. It is the only available land that is suitable for a comprehensive development opportunity.
Arlington National Cemetery currently covers 624 acres of land and is the final resting place for more than 400,000 men and women.
In fiscal year 2018, nearly 6,500 service members, veterans and eligible family members were buried at Arlington.
"Expansion alone will not keep ANC open well into the future -- defined as 150 years," Durham-Aguilera said. "The [fiscal year 2019] National Defense Authorization Act requires the secretary of the Army, in consultation with the secretary of defense, by Sept. 30, 2019, to prescribe and establish revised criteria for interment that preserves ANC as an active burial ground. Evaluation of multiple options is ongoing to inform the secretary of the Army's decision."
ANC has conducted two public surveys of nearly 260,000 respondents as well as held meetings and listening sessions with key stakeholders, including more than 25 veteran and military service organizations.
"Arlington National Cemetery's enduring mission is to represent the American people for the past, present and future generations by laying to rest those few who have served our nation with dignity and honor, while immersing guests in the cemetery's living history," Durham-Aguilera said. "We are committed to ensuring confident graveside accountability, our cemetery maintenance, our fiscal stewardship, and preserving the iconic look and feel of the cemetery."
The southern expansion is partially funded with $219.1 million no-year funding. In all, $350 million is needed for cemetery work, including $60 million fully funded for the Defense Access Road. Eight miles of roadways have been completed or are being rebuilt, with approximately 10 additional miles in planning or design.
A single contiguous parcel of land south of the cemetery will be established by closing and relocating local roadways. Columbia Pike, which runs alongside the cemetery to the south, will be rerouted.
The road project should finish by 2022, and second phase should begin in 2022 and complete in 2025, Durham-Aguilera said.
Also plans are underway to develop reclaimed land and bring it up to the standards of the cemetery.
Besides the road work, about one-third of the cemetery's storm sewer lines have been replaced and the administrative building where families gather in advance of a funeral will be worked on.
The Army is working with Arlington County, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Federal Highway Administration to move along the project.
An average of 25 burials are performed each day at the cemetery. The first military burial occurred in 1864 for Private William Christman. U.S. presidents that have been buried there are John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft.
Nearly 4,000 former slaves are buried at Arlington in Section 27, which was once known as Freedman's Village. The village included farmland, homes, a hospital and a school, and African-Americans who lived there were buried there.
Those eligible to be buried at Arlington include active duty military and retired reservists, recipients of the military's highest honors and former prisoners of war.