State Board Approves Rt. 7, Rt. 50 Renaming; County Opposes Purcellville Request

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.

9 thoughts on “State Board Approves Rt. 7, Rt. 50 Renaming; County Opposes Purcellville Request

  • 2022-03-21 at 4:47 pm

    I’m glad the county has removed honors for Harry Byrd & John Mosby. But I don’t understand the hang-up with honoring Billy Pierce. Instead of complaining about potential confusion, why not engage in a public-awareness campaign vis-a-vis the name change? Billy Pierce was a great African American choreographer, dancer & dance-studio owner. He invented the Black Bottom dance that became a national craze in the mid-1920s. I think it’s marvelous for Purcellville to honor him. Welcome to Spring Loudoun!

    • 2022-03-22 at 6:26 pm

      Why doesn’t the town just erect a memorial to him instead? I think they laid it out pretty good why they didn’t want to go forth with the name change in the town limits in Purcellville.

  • 2022-03-21 at 4:56 pm

    What has any VA/Loudoun politician done to decrease taxes, decrease unemployment, decrease crime, increase education results, increase tourism and help those impacted by COVID-19?

  • 2022-03-21 at 10:10 pm

    All is right again in the universe as the BoS has removed every last vestige of barbarity from our delicate senses. When you close your eyes tonight, rest peacefully knowing that social justice has been achieved.

    • 2022-03-22 at 9:01 pm

      Our unemployment rate is under 3%, one of the lowest in the country. And I’m OK with removing racist and confederate honors. The Confederate Army killed more Americans than Hitler’s Germany.

      But I doubt you’ll get that. Try this – what if YOU had to drive on Hillary Clinton Highway every day?

  • 2022-03-22 at 2:22 pm

    Conveniently, they leave out the fact that Harry Flood Byrd, Sr., was a member of the Democratic Party… the party that promoted Jim Crow laws, segregation, filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it found its way through Congress.

  • 2022-03-22 at 6:34 pm

    While I don’t have an issue with this measure, and I don’t think these roads should’ve been named after these two men to begin with, it sucks that we have a glut of reactionary politicians and a lack of forward thinking politicians. They seem to not be interested in things that would actually increase the quality of life among their constituents. Things such as using tax dollars to create neighborhood parks, dog parks, or plant street trees by the sidewalk as a traffic calming measure. Heck even planting fruit bearing trees by the sidewalk for traffic calming and food security purposes. We need to rethink our built environment and make it more human scale. I have not heard of one single Loudoun politician proposing such a measure. They are more interested in what new high dollar development they can entice in Ashburn or Leesburg.

  • 2022-03-23 at 1:17 pm

    The irony is that the complaints the County is making against the name change in Purcellville are the same complaints people made to the County against changing the names in the first place.

    What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.

    And again a note on the Commonwealth’s stupidity of requiring roads to have both names and numbers. Drop all names and just keep the numbers.

  • 2022-03-23 at 8:22 pm

    There are many roads that have different names as the pass through different localities. Also Billy Pierce was only born in Purcellville and spent the remainder of his life elsewhere. I certainly wouldn’t claim bragging rights to having a main thorofare named after some one that didn’t live in the place.

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