ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — The Justice Department has initiated legal proceedings to condemn nine acres of land in northern Virginia to facilitate a major expansion of Arlington National Cemetery.
Government lawyers filed the civil condemnation suit Monday in federal court in Alexandria. According to court papers, Arlington County will be repaid for the land with a realignment of Columbia Pike, a major highway running through the county.
The condemnation will allow the cemetery to add roughly 50,000 spaces as part of a $274 million southern expansion project that is expected to extend the life of the cemetery beyond the year 2050.
The cemetery is also considering revamping eligibility rules that would slow the number of burials and extend the cemetery’s life even further.
The cemetery and the county had been negotiating a land exchange for years to facilitate the expansion, but the cemetery ended those talks and proceeded unilaterally in 2017 after congressional legislation authorized the U.S. Army, which runs the cemetery, to move ahead on the expansion without exchanging any land.
Court papers say county leaders have endorsed the condemnation plan and been involved in negotiating its details.
More than 400,000 are buried or interred at Arlington, which conducts nearly 30 funeral ceremonies a day. Burials first began there in 1864, during the Civil War. The site had been the home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and was chosen in part as a way to spite the Lee family for his decision to join the Confederacy.