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Purcellville Council Deflects Rt. 7 Renaming Safety Concerns

A sign on the side of Rt. 7 marks the Purcellville town limits. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]

The Purcellville Town Council has resisted an urge from the county government to reconsider naming the two-mile stretch of Route 7 in town limits Billy Pierce Memorial Pike, along with warnings from county and town public safety officials that it could create dangerous situations in emergencies.

In February, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a request from the county Board of Supervisors to rename Route 7 within Loudoun to Leesburg Pike, away from Harry Byrd Memorial Highway after a noted segregationist lawmaker. But on March 15, the state board approved a request from the Town of Purcellville to again rename the stretch of road inside town limits as the Billy Pierce Memorial Pike, prompting safety concerns from county officials.

County Administrator Tim Hemstreet wrote a letter to the town warning the name change would be confusing, especially for 911 callers, and especially given the road’s name changes to Billy Pierce Memorial Pike and back again without any obvious physical features such as an intersection. He advised the town the county will ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board to reconsider their decision.

Loudoun Fire-Rescue Chief Keith Johnson and other county staff members came to the Purcellville Town Council meeting Tuesday, March 22 to repeat those concerns. He suggested the town back off officially renaming the stretch of road and instead pursue a more visible memorial sign on the road while the road officially remains named Leesburg Pike. He pointed to extensive work elsewhere in Loudoun County to eliminate confusing road names, meant to streamline the work for dispatchers and first responders.

Johnson reported that fire and rescue crews have responded to 67 incidents on that two-mile stretch of road since 2019, and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has reported 614 incidents.

Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister agreed with those safety concerns when seconds matter.

“If there’s a horrific crash out there on that two-mile stretch that is technically the town, or one of my officers is in trouble and I’ve got officers coming in from Clarke County or wherever else, and they’re saying a name that nobody has ever heard. … I don’t want anyone’s life to be in danger just because they got confused on a little two-mile strip of roadway,” she said.

Purcellville councilmembers responded by wondering whether the county’s Computer-Aided Dispatch System could instead be updated to reflect the multiple names 911 callers may call the road.

“Our original intent was not to half-step this process. We wanted the road to be identified as Mr. Pierce road, not just a marker, because we can put a marker anywhere in the Town of Purcellville,” said Mayor Kwasi Fraser.

Council members expressed interest in also pursuing a marker, and asked Johnson to return with more information about changing the CAD system before they make a decision.

“If you guys can’t unscrew this, and there’s no way to make CADS work that way, then you just tell us you can’t do that,” said Councilman Tip Stinnette.

Route 7 was named for segregationist lawmaker and state governor Harry Byrd Sr. in 1968, at the height of the civil rights movement. Byrd led “massive resistance” to close Virginia’s public schools rather than integrate them. Naming the road “Leesburg Pike” restores the name it had before then, and the name it has today in Fairfax County.

Purcellville native Billy Pierce was a noted choreographer, dancer, and studio owner in New York City, credited with inventing the Black Bottom dance that became a national craze in the 1920s.