The Commonwealth Transportation Board unanimously approved Loudoun County’s request to rename Rt. 7 and Rt. 50 and restore their historic names as part of a broader effort erase names associated with the Confederacy, the slave trade, or racism from public streets, buildings, and parks.
The a special request by the Town of Purcellville threw a wrench into that work last week when the state board approved renaming a section of the Rt. 7 bypass inside town as the Billy Pierce Memorial Pike, and the county government will seek to have that decision reversed citing safety concerns.
The state board voted unanimously on Feb. 15 to approve Loudoun County’s request to rename those roads within its borders. The work to rename those roads began in December 2020, when county supervisors launched work to find and inventory segregationist and Confederate symbols in Loudoun. Eventually the county board voted to restore the roads to their previous names, Leesburg Pike for Rt. 7 and Little River Turnpike for Rt. 50.
As part of that process, the county asked the three towns that include portions of the Rt. 7 Bypass to endorse the Leesburg Pike name. The Leesburg and Round Hill town councils did so; the Purcellville council opted to rename its section of the highway in honor of the Purcellville native who went on to be 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.
In its resolution, the Purcellville council noted were no addressable structures on that section of the highway and that the only cost would be the creation and placement of signs denoting the name, which the town would pay.
And on March 15, the CTB adopted a resolution approving the town’s request.
However, two days later, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet sent a letter to Purcellville Town Manager David Mekarski raising concerns about the confusion that could arise from having a small section of the highway known by a different name. “Loudoun County does not support this action, as it will negatively affect the safe and efficient delivery of public safety services,” Hemstreet wrote.
“This name change would not take place at an easily identifiable geographic feature such as an intersection, but at jurisdictional boundaries, on or near overpasses. The change in street name at a jurisdictional boundary will be confusing to 9-1-1 callers, who may be unaware of the name change and provide incorrect information when calling for emergency services. This situation will in turn put a burden on the public safety answering point, to include the telecommunicators who answer the emergency and non-emergency calls, to correctly pinpoint where a caller is located, as well as on first responders to be aware of this change while attempting to reach the caller’ s location by the most efficient means necessary. This will affect not only Loudoun County Fire and Rescue unit response, but other agencies such as the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Conservation Police, the Purcellville Police Department, and responders from other jurisdictions,” Hemstreet wrote.
Additionally, Hemstreet raised concerns about the time and effort needed to update the Computer-Aided Dispatch system and the cost of planning and posting new road signs.
“The County intends to immediately petition the Commonwealth Transportation Board to reverse its decision to approve the request of the Town of Purcellville to name a portion of Route 7 as Billy Pierce Memorial Pike and request that the entirety of Route 7 within in the County be named Leesburg Pike,” Hemstreet wrote.
Some Commonwealth Transportation Board members expressed concern in February about renaming the road in pieces—even after the vote in February, only the parts of the roads in Loudoun have been renamed. Rt. 7 was named Harry Byrd Highway between the Shenandoah River and Loudoun’s eastern border. Without further action, there will remain a section of road just under three miles long still named for Byrd in Clarke County.
And after March’s vote, the road is named Billy Pierce Memorial Pike for an approximately two-mile stretch where it crosses through the Purcellville town boundaries.
The Purcellville Town Council is scheduled to discuss the county’s concerns during its meeting Tuesday night.
Rt. 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. Rt. 50 was named for Confederate Col. John Singleton Mosby in 1980.
The county government will bear the estimated $621,000 cost to replace the road signs, and Loudoun supervisors have also directed county staff members to develop a grant program to offset related costs for businesses with addresses along those roads.