Loudoun County supervisors have launched a more than yearlong process to rename Rt. 7 and Rt. 50 where they are named for segregationist and Confederate figures—Harry Byrd, a lawmaker best known for leading “massive resistance” to integration in Virginia, and Confederate cavalry commander John Mosby.
With supervisors largely agreeing that the names need to go, debate at their May 18meeting centered largely on who should come up with new ones, how long that should take, and how much it should cost. The county board targeted the end of the year for selecting new names to send to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which has the final say-so on renaming the roads.
The board will get options for new names from a task force made up of seven members sent by the county’s Heritage Commission and one appointee from each of the nine county supervisors, after a period of public input. Even that timeline is accelerated from the one originally estimated by county staff members, which wouldn’t have seen the Board of Supervisors picking new names until February or March of 2022. Replacing the signs is also expected to take some time, up to year.
Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) had pushed for an even swifter timeline, which would have seen the Heritage Commission offering new options for names within 90 days.
“With all due respect, I don’t think we need to take almost a year to go through this process to come up with these names and come back to us,” Saines said.
But county staff members said that timeline wasn’t feasible, considering public notice requirements and other largely behind-the-scenes work. And Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), whose district includes the easternmost part of Rt. 50 in Loudoun, said his constituents would not be adequately represented by the Heritage Commission.
He also worried about the costs to businesses when their street address changes.
“For those businesses that have invested thousands of dollars in signage and legal documents and business cards, its painted on their trucks, it’s everywhere,” Letourneau said. “This is a big deal, a very big deal. It’s expensive.”
The cost of replacing the signs, according to preliminary estimates, is about $708,000. But the county is working with a character limit; if the new names are longer and require larger signs than the old ones, according to a county staff report, it could cost more than three times as much to replace them, about $3.3 million.
“There is no question that this is going to create a lot of turmoil, there’s no question that it’s inconvenient, there is no question that it’s an expense, but frankly, there’s no question that when one of these is named after a member of the KKK [Byrd] and a notorious segregationist, and the other one is named after a guy who was engaged in treason, I’m sorry[…] I think this is absolutely necessary,” said Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn).
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she was surprised how recently the roads got those names—in the case of Rt. 50, the General Assembly named the road John Mosby Highway in 1982.
The county will now solicit applications for the nine board appointees to the sign task force, with nominations expected at the June 15 board meeting.
Supervisors voted 8-0-1, with Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) absent.