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A realigned Columbia Pike inches toward reality

The east end of Columbia Pike in Arlington already looks quite different after the 70-year-old Navy Annex was torn down last year, but it may change even more under a proposed 3-way land swap between Arlington County, the Department of Defense, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Map by Arlington County.

The swap envisions realigning Columbia Pike, removing the old Southgate Road, building a new Southgate Road, and completely reworking the Columbia Pike-Washington Boulevard interchange.

Arlington National Cemetery is running out of land for additional burials. That is largely driving this deal, which will give the cemetery more contiguous land, but it also means beneficial changes for the transportation network.

While the exact parcels have not been fully identified, the swap will likely mostly resemble the map above. The cemetery will get the green area, consisting of old Navy Annex land, the former Southgate Road and former Columbia Pike, South Joyce Street, and portions of the Columbia Pike-Washington Boulevard cloverleaf interchange.

The yellow area will go to Arlington for a proposed Freedmen's Village museum and other public uses. The blue area is DoD property that used to house a gas station and the purple is part of the current cloverleaf.

Columbia Pike gets straightened out and rebuilt. The new portion of Columbia Pike would include 4 general-purpose lanes and a sidewalk on the south side. A 10-foot sidepath on the north side would connect with a similar sidepath planned for this section of Columbia Pike.

The cloverleaf with Route 27 would become a more compact diamond interchange. A new Southgate Road would connect Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to Columbia Pike by a shorter route than the road today.

An earlier land swap proposal was authorized in 2008 which would not have realigned the Pike. It would have simply swapped the county's Southgate Road right-of-way for a similarly-sized piece of the Navy Annex, but it was tabled in 2012.

Arlington and the federal government signed a new memorandum of understanding in 2013, and authority to make the swap recently appeared in the proposed Department of Defense appropriations bill.

Chris Slatt is chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission and of WABA's Arlington Action Committee. His posts are his own opinions. 


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The map when clicked goes to a MOU PDF that does not appear to include said map and thus I can't view it a larger size. You have that handy by any chance?

by NikolasM on Jun 16, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

When I click I get a PDF which has that map on the last page.

by David Alpert on Jun 16, 2014 10:44 am • linkreport

Weird. Now I'm seeing it. Thanks.

by NikolasM on Jun 16, 2014 11:15 am • linkreport

It looks like the new Pike would take a bend not unlike it's original alignment, before the Pentagon and it's road network.

by ArlRidgeRes on Jun 16, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

What will happen with the olive area to the south of the realigned Columbia Pike?

by Frank IBC on Jun 16, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

There is a large elevation change between where the old Navy Annex was and S. Joyce St. So does this mean that Columbia Pike will have a much steeper grade going down to S. Joyce St.? This raises concern for the streetcar as I believe the maximum grade most streetcars can handle is about 8-9%.

by Mark P. on Jun 16, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

@Frank IBC - The olive area is "yellow" - Arlington County would get that land to develop the Freedmen's Village Museum.

by Mitch on Jun 16, 2014 3:22 pm • linkreport

I'm having a hard time envsioning this. And how would it would with the streetcar alignment?

And why a freedman's village -- isn't that the VDOT property?

by charlie on Jun 16, 2014 3:40 pm • linkreport

It may be a little inappropriate, but I have always wondered if storm water management engineers will take into account the permeable surface from the new space for Arlington National.

by TheCharlie on Jun 16, 2014 5:38 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the information! I've been excited to hear what was going to happen with that area. Do you have more information on the Freedmen's Village Museum? Also, any idea how long the construction will take? And lastly, are we going to lose the authenticity of the pike?

by Wendy on Jun 16, 2014 8:26 pm • linkreport

Thanks, Mitch, but that area sure looks olive rather than "yellow" on my browser and monitor.

by Frank IBC on Jun 16, 2014 9:46 pm • linkreport


VDOT's property is the property to the left of the olive-colored shading. The olive shading is old DOD property that used to be parking lots for the Navy Annex (which I used often when I'd hit the former uniform shop at the Annex).

As for the streetcar question, if one looks closely at the map (shows up better in the PDF), one can see red tracks on the map on Columbia Pike then turning south on Joyce St. It's a safe bet that those represent the planned streetcar, and in fact the cross-section shown in the bottom middle of the map shows streetcars in the outside lanes.

by Froggie on Jun 17, 2014 2:30 am • linkreport

It would be better to NOT go through with the land swap and use that land for a new school in South Arlington. The Board, the County Manager and the School Board say there is no land left except parks to build in South Arlington...well from what I see there is 12 acres available right on Colombia Pike. So schools or streetcar?

by terri on Jun 17, 2014 6:42 am • linkreport

I think a school could fit on the "yellow" plot along with the Freedman's museum. Or perhaps on the purple plot. This doesn't have to be either/or.

by David C on Jun 17, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

If Arlington built a school there would that allow them to reduce the speed limit on that section of Columbia Pike?

by jhr on Jun 17, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

The only land Arlington "has" unless they go through with the land swap is underneath South Gate Road and underneath Columbia Pike. They only get the "olive" or "yellow" land if they go through with the swap. I don't think anybody can build a school in the middle of a street.

The language in the defense appropriations bill says Arlington gets land to "construct a museum that honors the history of freedman’s village, as well as any other County or public use this is compatible with a location immediately adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, one of our Nation’s most sacred shrines"

So maybe a school, maybe something else (seems like a better spot for the Streetcar Maintenance facility to me) but Arlington doesn't get the land at all unless the swap goes through.

by Chris Slatt on Jun 17, 2014 1:09 pm • linkreport

One downside: no more sitting on the lawn of the Air Force Memorial to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. I assume that if all of the green-shaded land is used for new burial plot, then these will understandably be off-limits to crowds that size. I was up at the Air Force Memorial only last year, and there must have been hundreds if not a couple thousand people there. For everyone who lives in the area and is unfortunate enough not to have access to a private high-rise view, the lawn in front of the memorial was a great no cost way of taking in the fireworks.

I would generally support the idea of realigning Columbia Pike - assuming the elevation changes are not too steep, a straighter path would seem to be better for all transit modes - but I would hope that there is at least some concern given for how this realigned space could be used for the community of people who actually live nearby.

Also ... If Arlington is full now, how much longer until they need to expand again? Would it not make more sense to create a new national cemetery in a low-population or rural area, one that would most likely offer more serene and pleasant surroundings than the Pentagon parking lot and 395?

by ndw_dc on Jun 23, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

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