By Aili Hou
The Renaming Rt. 7 and Rt. 50 Task Force on Aug. 11 narrowed the list of potential new names for the two roads down to a handful of options for the Board of Supervisors to consider.
After collecting suggestions from the public, the committee selected seven potential names for Rt. 7 and five for Rt. 50.
The options for Rt. 7 are: Loudoun Heritage, Potomac Gap, Piedmont Gateway, Virginia Piedmont, Catoctin Valley, Loudoun Trail, and Potomac Heritage. Rt. 50’s name options include: Virginia Piedmont, Loudoun Heritage, Middleburg, Piedmont Gateway, and Piedmont Heritage.
In addition to those, the Task Force will send a supplementary memo to the Board, asking them to consider two names that were previously used for sections of the roads but could not be voted on by the Task Force: Leesburg Pike and Little River Turnpike.
Throughout the voting process, lively debate over the name options ensued. Several names of individual people were brought up for discussion, including Charles Houston, a prominent African-American lawyer who fought against segregation in the 1930s, and George Marshall, a military leader and statesman who was quoted to be “a great American hero.” However, some Task Force members expressed concern over voting for one specific person over another, such as Derrick Clark of the Heritage Commission who said he prefers “geographically-represented names.” None of the names referencing individual people passed through onto the final list.
Other factors that the Task Force considered were whether a name both reflected the unique features of Loudoun County and were inclusive of all residents and cultures. One unpopular option, Colonial Gap, was dismissed partly because it was too “generic” and could be found anywhere else.
“Colonial [history] is just one era of history within our history,” said Heritage Commission member Alicia Cohen. “I would look for something that’s a little more encompassing.”
Loudoun Heritage was the most favored name suggestion for Rt. 7 by the Task Force, with a total of 13 votes of approval.
“The whole idea is that for the purposes of our county, we have a lot of heritage—whether it’s colonial or civil rights,” Cohen said. “Going down Rt. 7, you’re going into Leesburg, and pow! You have all this heritage.”
Several of the approved names appear on the final lists for both Rt. 7 and Rt. 50, including Loudoun Heritage, Piedmont Gateway, and Virginia Piedmont. Some Task Force members indicated their preference for the usage of such names for one road over the other. Virginia Piedmont, for instance, was said to be preferred for Rt. 50 over Rt. 7 due to its closer alignment with “horse country,” while Loudoun Heritage was preferred for Rt. 7.
According to Heritage Commission member Cliff Keirce, simply using “Route 7” and “Route 50” as Rt. 7 and Rt. 50’s official names has been a popular suggestion from the public. Task Force Chair Mark Miller said state code requires roads to have separate names in addition to their numerical ones.
However, Keirce commented that it is common nation-wide for roads to solely have numerical names.
“No matter what name we give these roads, everybody calls them Route 7 and Route 50, and I just can’t buy that somehow that’s too confusing to people, whether it’s safety or whatever,” Keirce said. “It is commonplace around the country. I just don’t see why Loudoun County is so difficult to do.”
Kelly Griffin, a program manager in the Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure, said county staff would review state code to verify Miller’s claim.
Following that meeting, the lists of names for both roadways are scheduled to be presented to and reviewed by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 21. Afterward, the names will be made available to the public, who will rank them in order of preference. The Board will then evaluate the public’s opinions in December of this year and send the two new names to the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board for final approval.
The work is part of the county’s ongoing project to rename public property bearing Confederate or segregationist symbols. Rt. 7 is named for former lawmaker Harry S. Byrd, best known for leading “massive resistance,” shutting down Virginia public schools rather than allowing racial integration; and Rt. 50 is named after Confederate Col. John S. Mosby.
Aili Hou is an intern at Loudoun Now. This article was updated Aug. 17 at 7:25 p.m. to include additional discussion of naming Rt. 7 and Rt. 50 “Route 7” and “Route 50.”