The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a shortlist of proposed new names for two major highways running through the Virginia county.
One is named for an ardent segregationist and the other for a Confederate commander.
The board voted 9-0 to approve a list of eight potential names for Route 7, currently known as Harry Byrd Highway, and six potential names for Route 50, which is called John Mosby Highway.
The motion was introduced by Supervisor Koran T. Saines, the board’s vice chairman, who said the names “never should have been changed to the names they currently are.”
During the discussion at Tuesday’s board meeting, Saines and fellow supervisors appeared to be leaning toward going back to the original, historic names of the two highways — Leesburg Pike for Route 7 and Little River Turnpike for Route 50.
County residents will be asked to rank the names on the shortlist before the board votes in December.
History and the roadways
Late last year, the board voted to rename the highways within the county’s borders.
Mosby was a Confederate commander during the Civil War, and Byrd was a Virginia governor from 1926 to 1930. Byrd fought segregation as a U.S. senator, and served in that role from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Route 7 in the county was renamed for Byrd in the 1960s, and Route 50 was renamed for Mosby in the 1980s.
The shortlist of names approved by the board Tuesday was put together by a task force over the summer with input from members of the public.
Board Chair Phyllis Randall said she’s heard from some residents who claim the board is now attempting to “rewrite history.”
Randall said history was rewritten when the highways were renamed in honor of Byrd and Mosby.
“Segregationists and sons of the Confederates stepped up and said, ‘We want these names changed to Harry Byrd Highway and to John Mosby highway.’ And so that’s when history was changed,” she said. “We are changing back what was done before.”
Supervisor Mike Turner said: “We’re not changing history; we’re rebalancing and correcting an error of history.”
Supervisor Matt Letourneau also said going back to the original names, especially Leesburg Pike for Route 7 “makes all the sense in the world” since that’s also how the road is named in Fairfax County.
Making a final decision
While Leesburg Pike and Little River Turnpike appear to be the heavy favorites, there’s an added wrinkle to the process, since a county ordinance bars roadways in the county from sharing the same name. There’s currently a Leesburg Court in the county and a Little River Lane that would have to be renamed if the board reverts back to the original names.
The board also voted unanimously to begin reaching out to residents of Leesburg Court and Little River Lane as a head’s up that their street addresses may have to change as a result of the board’s move.
There was some discussion before the vote if the board even had to authorize that step.
“Whether we have to or not, whether it’s required, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Randle said. “If you’re going to change someone’s address, you should tell them in advance and let them know that it’s coming.”
Loudoun County Fire Chief Keith Johnson said he didn’t have any concerns about confusing first responders by reverting to the original names. Supervisors were also told that the Virginia Department of Transportation had reviewed the shortlist and didn’t have any concerns.
In parts of neighboring Fairfax County, Route 236 is also known as Little River Turnpike.
As the next step in the process, Loudoun County will host a public input session next week so residents can give their feedback on the proposed names. The virtual public meets will take place Wednesday Sept. 29 with sessions at both 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
On Sept. 30, the county will unveil a survey through which residents can rank the proposed names.
The board is set to vote on the final names in early December.
VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board must also approve the changes.