The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 13 voted 9-1 to ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board to rename the county’s sections of Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway as Routes 29 and 50, their existing respective route numbers.
The majority of supervisors sought to remove the roadways’ associations with Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
“Basically, we’re officially changing the name of Route 29 to Route 29 and Route 50 to Route 50,” said Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill). “Frankly, it’s important for us at this point in our history to make sure that we are not glorifying folks that we do not want to glorify anymore.”
The name change grew out of the board’s July 2020 directive that the Fairfax County History Commission inventory Confederate-related street names. The commission submitted its inventory in December 2020.
Supervisors in July 2021 created the Confederate Names Task Force to review the names of Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, evaluate whether to change one or both of the roadways’ names and ponder possible new names.
After meeting nine times, the task force in December 2021 submitted a report that recommended changing both roads’ names, suggested alternative names and asked that the board consider giving financial assistance to those affected by the new names.
The task force’s chairman presented the final report on Feb. 8 this year, and supervisors subsequently asked staff to conduct further outreach to residents and businesses in those roadway corridors.
County staff on June 14 presented results of those outreach efforts to the board’s Transportation Committee and included data on signage costs, neighboring jurisdictions’ actions on road renamings and whether those localities had compensated affected parties.
Fairfax County will need to spend about $1.4 million to change 177 signs that specify Lee Highway and another 56 that now identify Route 50 as Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway.
Staff members are asking for more time to develop a financial-assistance program for residents and businesses affected by the name switches, but have estimated it would cost about $1.5 million to implement. Staff will refine the program’s details, which the Board of Supervisors will take up in future budget processes.
No funding has been identified yet for the $2.9 million total cost of the changes, and the county is prohibited from using revenue sources that are dedicated to enhancing transportation capacity.
Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield), the board’s only Republican, cast the lone vote against the road renamings.
“It’s pretty clear from the evidence that we do have from the public feedback that we have gotten that our residents don’t support this change,” Herrity said. “The only voice we had for change was a committee that, based on the public impression of many who participated in the process . . . was formed with a predetermined decision in place. And that’s my impression as well.”
When queried by the county government, the vast majority of business owners and residents along the corridors indicated the name changes would affect them financially, he said.
The survey asked which of a short list of potential names the respondents would prefer for the roadways, but did not inquire whether they favored or opposed the change, Herrity said.
“With ever-rising taxes and inflation, I don’t think we should be spending money on something our residents have said they do not want and imposing financial or other burdens on our businesses that actually use the road names, without even asking them if they want the change,” Herrity said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) disagreed with Herrity’s views.
“These symbols and these names have a profound negative effect on a lot of people in our community,” McKay said. “We can stand by and let that continue and celebrate that, or we can make a modest change to name these back to the same thing they’re named now, which is the route number.”
Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence) concurred.
“The simplest, most cost-effective and least-confusing path is just using the numbers that we use,” Palchik said, adding that the task force’s report also published a dissenting opinion.
The county is not going on a street-renaming spree, as some critics feared, but rather is taking a “very limited, targeted, moderate approach,” said Supervisor James Walkinshaw (D-Braddock).