A Lesson for Our Nation’s Infrastructure from Arlington National Cemetery


Let’s take a look at a pipe replacement project in one of the nation’s most honored sites: Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for many of America’s soldiers, on rolling Virginia hills across the Potomac River from the District of Columbia.

More than 65 years ago, a series of cast iron water pipes were installed for fire suppression and other water use. The water pipelines snake around seventy sections of the cemetery, as well as up and down the hillsides. When time came to replace these aging pipes, great care was needed not to disrupt the serenity and operations of a cemetery that needs to remain open for thousands of visitors per day and multiple daily military funeral processions.

So instead of digging large trenches throughout the cemetery to remove old pipes and lay new ones, engineers utilized technology that inserts the new plastic pipe into the existing pipe space. Small pits were dug on either side of the aging pipe. A “bursting head” attached to the plastic pipe was placed in the pipe opening. From the other opening, the bursting head and pipe were pulled through the existing pipe space, leaving the new pipe in its place.

By repeating this process, engineers replaced more than 44,500 feet of existing cast iron water mains with long lasting plastic pipes. This helped retain environmental and operational integrity of the cemetery – it even occurred many times near high-profile areas such as former President John F. Kennedy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with its hourly changing of the guard.

So… engineers were able to replace the water pipes rather stealthily at a national cemetery, among hills and winding paths and revered structures.

Fortunately, that same process can translate directly for use in towns and cities across the country, saving communities time, disruption, and expense. And building a more resilient national infrastructure.

Want to learn more? Click here for more on how plastic pipes can help rebuild our nation’s infrastructure.