The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 8-0-1 on Tuesday to begin the process of renaming Loudoun County’s Route 7 and Route 50, named after former Virginia Gov. Harry F. Byrd and Confederate commander John Mosby because of their history of supporting racism.
A final decision could come early next year.
After a lengthy debate over the recommended logistics by county staff, the board voted on a process that would form a 16-member task force focused on providing input and assisting with public outreach to determine alternate name recommendations for Harry Byrd Highway and John Mosby Highway.
The 16-member task force will include seven members from the Heritage Commission and nine selected by each respective supervisor. Residents, business owners and employees along the corridors will be considered by the supervisors.
Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) was absent for the vote.
The board directed staff to establish a capital project account for funds in renaming the highways and approve the amendment of the fiscal 2021 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) by authorizing the execution of a budget adjustment to transfer $87,000 from the Capital Project Management project to the newly established capital account in the Capital Projects Fund to fund the highway sign inventory.
Additionally, the board directed staff to send the balance of the remaining estimated costs for sign replacement in the amount of $621,000 — $3,204,000 to the CIP fiscal 2021 budget process for consideration and prioritization.
With the history of Mosby and Byrd supporting racism, the board voted last December to consider renaming the highways.
Vice Chairman Koran Saines (D-Sterling), who brought the initiative forward, directed staff to also coordinate with Fairfax County, to provide a cost estimate.
Saines said similar to Fairfax County’s recent efforts to rename Routes 29, 50, and other local highways, he believed it was time to follow suit.
Americans have dealt with the country’s racial reckoning, including removing war memorials and Confederate symbols, signs and names across the country.
As reported earlier, Loudoun County and other localities across Virginia were given authority by state lawmakers to “remove, relocate or contextualize” war memorials during last year’s General Assembly session. The law went into effect in last July.
Last summer, the board voted to return the “Silent Sentinel” statue that stood outside the Loudoun County courthouse to the Loudoun Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The statue, which the board affirmed belonged to the UDC, sat at the corner of North King and East Market streets in Leesburg.
Supervisor Mike Turner (D-Ashburn) gained support from his colleagues on the board last November to move forward with replacing the plaque on the World War I memorial that racially segregates 30 white and Black soldiers.
Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) and Saines also received board support in directing staff to review Confederate and segregationist symbols in Loudoun County. The project is ongoing.
The men, the highways
John Mosby Highway spans the entire county and connects with Fauquier County to the west and Fairfax County to the east, with portions weaving in and out of Fauquier County in the Blue Ridge and Dulles Election Districts, the May 18 report reads.
Additionally, Harry Byrd Highway extends across the entire county and connects with Clarke County to the west and Fairfax County to the east and passes through all election districts except for the Dulles District.
Mosby fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, while Byrd served as governor of Virginia and later represented the state in the U.S. Senate, overseeing what was known as the Byrd Machine into the 1960s.
Byrd, a Democrat, and his acolytes across the state strongly opposed integration of Virginia’s public schools. He led the massive resistance campaign in the state against school integration.
What the board said
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large): “I actually don’t believe that businesses would oppose the name change, because if they actually know who these people are, they may not want that name on their business anyway — if they did the research themselves — but it is a lot to name change.”
Saines: “In my talking to members of the heritage commission myself, they said they’re interested in taking up this initiative and willing to do the work. So let them do the work.”
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) on including residents and businesses to the task force: “With respect to my colleagues, I think you’re underestimating those businesses that have invested thousands of dollars in signage, and legal documents and business cards. It’s painted on their trucks. It’s everywhere. This is a big deal. A very big deal. I mean, it’s expensive for these folks.”
He said in his district there are many businesses and residents located along Route 50. He said it’s important to consider input from all the stakeholders along the highway.
Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) on setting up a grant system for residents and businesses potentially impacted by name changes: “I would predict we’re going to hear from people who have their homes or their businesses along 7 or 50, who are going to be upset that we’re proposing to change the names of those streets.”
Supervisor Mike Turner (D-Ashburn): “There is no question that this is going to create a lot of turmoil. There’s no question that it’s inconvenient, there’s no question that it’s an expense. But frankly, there’s no question that the when one of these is named after — remember the KKK — a notorious segregationist, and the other ones named after a guy who was engaged in treason, I’m sorry.”
County staff will continue to work with other jurisdictions and conduct a sign inventory. The goal is to have the board select the new names between January 2022 and February 2022.
Below is an estimated schedule approved by the board:
Task 1 — Interjurisdictional coordination, January 2021 to end of process
Task 2 — Conduct sign inventory, June 2021 to September 2021
Task 3 — Create task force, July 2021 to November 2021
Task 4 — Prepare alternate road name list, July 2021 to November 2021
Task 5 — Public outreach, July 2021 to November 2021
Task 6 — Board selection and approval of alternate road names, January 2022 to February 2022
Task 7 — Virginia Department of Transportation/Commonwealth Transportation Board approval of new road names, January 2022 to TBD
Task 8 — Implement new road names, January 2022 to TBD