The U.S. Army has begun a process that it hopes will expand Arlington National Cemetery by 38 acres and extend its life into the 2050s.

Army and cemetery officials hosted a public scoping meeting April 27 to brief the community and stakeholders on the details of the proposed project, which could add as many as 25,000 grave sites to a plot of land near the Air Force Memorial, contiguous to the current cemetery's border.

This expansion would join the cemetery's Millennium Project in the plan to provide hallowed ground for fallen service members well into the future. The Millennium Project, an expansion currently under construction on the north end of the cemetery bordering Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, will add 27 acres and more than 27,000 interment spaces.

These expansions are necessary for the cemetery's continued existence, according to Col. Doug Guttormsen, director of engineering for Arlington National Cemetery. Without the Millennium Project and this new Southern Expansion, the cemetery would run out of grave sites by the 2020s.

The Millennium expansion gets the cemetery to the 2030s, but the Southern Expansion will carry it another 20 years, into the 2050s, according to Guttormsen.

"We have a great opportunity here before us to transform this area that was the former Navy Annex into burial space and an expansion for Arlington National Cemetery and a well-designed realignment of the road network in the area," he said.

Along with a new section of the cemetery, the Southern Expansion project also includes a major realignment of the roads around the site.

Such a realignment would impact Columbia Pike, Southgate Road, S. Joyce Street and the nearby interchange, according to Guttormsen.

"As we realign those roads, we have to make sure road network redesign supports the multimodal transportation requirements of the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as Arlington County," he said. "That's a key aspect of the process as we move forward."

But since the planning process is in such early stages, details of the Southern Expansion's design have not yet been finalized, though a conceptual realignment has been produced.

"We have to think through as we enter into the planning and design process, what those impacts are," Guttormsen said of the traffic implications. "And we have to do everything we can to mitigate those impacts. The phasing of that construction will be very important once we have a design."

Since a significant portion of the land for the project is owned by Arlington County and the Virginia Department of Transportation, land exchange negotiations are still ongoing. But Guttormsen said that the process is moving forward.

"I think we're making progress with all parties," he said.

Greg Emanuel, Arlington County's director of environmental services, agreed, and said he believes the parties involved will come to an agreement.

"I think we are moving forward," he said. "I truly believe that all parties here want to do the right thing. They want to get it right…This is going to be how the corridor is aligned for a long time…We have to get this right for the long term."

He also noted that the histories of both the county and the cemetery are already deeply linked, and that the expansion would strengthen that relationship.

"We believe that this ultimately pulls us together more, but it takes time to do it right," he said.

The Army will conduct an environmental assessment over the next year, soliciting input from the public. If a land exchange agreement is reached and everything goes smoothly, construction on roads could begin in 2018, with cemetery construction following close behind in 2019. Project completion is tentatively set for 2022, according to Guttormsen.

The Southern Expansion project is estimated to cost $274 million, with another $30 million for the road realignment. Guttormsen noted that the money has not yet been appropriated.

For more information about Arlington National Cemetery's Southern Expansion Project, visit http://go.usa.gov/cungJ.

Scoping comments can be submitted to the cemetery and the Army Corps of Engineers at SouthernExpansion@usace.army.mil or by mail to Kathy Perdue, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District, 803 Front St., Norfolk, Virginia, 23510, until May 31.

Pentagram Staff Writer Guv Callahan can be reached at wcallahan@dcmilitary.com.