Fairfax County supervisors wish to rename Lee and Lee-Jackson Memorial highways because of their associations with Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, but a county survey – with an admittedly small sample size – found the public would prefer they just go with the roads’ numbers.
Supervisors at their June 14 Transportation Committee meeting seemed open to the possibility of using numerical names.
“Frankly, people already refer to these by their route numbers today, so it would be a less-dramatic change in terms of lifestyle, marketing [and] the daily lives of the people who live and work in these two corridors,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D).
Supervisors in June 2020 asked the county’s History Commission to inventory Confederate street names, monuments and public places in the county. The commission submitted its report in December 2020.
In July 2021, supervisors created the Confederate Names Task Force to evaluate the names of Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50). The task force’s final report, presented to supervisors on Feb. 8 this year, recommended changing the names of both roads, offered possible alternative names for them and recommended supervisors consider providing financial aid to those who would be affected by the changes.
Supervisors asked county staff to reach out to businesses and residents along those roadway corridors. Staff received 129 survey responses and eight voicemails on the matter, 74 percent of which came from people and businesses on the Route 29 corridor and 25 percent from the Route 50 area.
Solid majorities of respondents (76 percent on Route 29, 72 percent on Route 50) said changing the roadways’ names would cost them financially.
Respondents anticipated costs related to legal documents, digital and print marketing, signage and stationery.
The overwhelming number of respondents favored simply using the roadways’ numerical designations.
As for the other suggested choices, survey takers on the Route 29 corridor supported (in descending order) renaming that road Fairfax Boulevard or Highway, Langston Boulevard or Highway, Cardinal Highway and Lincoln-Douglass Highway. (Lest there be any debate, that last name honors President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Lincoln’s debating opponent during his 1858 Senate campaign was incumbent U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas.)
In the Route 50 area, also listed from top to bottom, respondents favored Fairfax Boulevard, Little River Turnpike and an equal amount for Unity Highway and Blue & Gray Highway.
Fairfax County would have to pay for new signage, which could run anywhere from $1 million to $4.2 million, although officials doubted the upper end would be reached. The amount would vary based upon the length of the names chosen.
Other area jurisdictions have taken action on the highways’ names.
Arlington County renamed Route 29 as Langston Boulevard, Loudoun County renamed its section of Route 50 as Little River Turnpike and the Fairfax City Council held a June 14 public hearing on renaming its sections of Routes 29 and 50, with a decision scheduled for June 28.
In order to rename Fairfax County’s sections of Routes 29 and 50, supervisors would have to approve a resolution asking the Commonwealth Transportation Board to make the changes.
McKay said he was not surprised by the survey’s results on what the roadways’ new names should be, but asked if there would be any pros or cons to sticking with numerical names.
Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Thomas Biesiadny said county officials had pondered the same question and sent test letters to addresses on Routes 29 and 50, using those names instead of Lee and Lee-Jackson Memorial highways.
“It’s been several months now,” he said. “Those letters have never arrived.”
Biesiadny added, “Unfortunately, without the board making an official change, those letters probably would not be delivered on a consistent basis.”
McKay said it would be ideal to change the roadways’ names, which offend some people, in a way that is least invasive and troublesome. Numerical designations, provided supervisors asked the CTB for an official change and the U.S. Postal Service then updated its computerized address listings, might be the easiest and most understandable way to go, he said.
There already is much confusion on the roadways’ names because they change by jurisdiction, said Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence), who favored removing the Confederate names in a way that did not add to the perplexity. Palchik added she would be fine either with numerical designations for the roadways or names that aligned across jurisdictions.
Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) noted that the survey had asked neither whether the highways’ names should be left unchanged nor whether potential loss of business would be a concern.
Supervisor Rodney Lusk (D-Lee) said he would be open to giving the roadways numerical names and compensating those affected, especially businesses with 150 or fewer workers.
Some jurisdictions are contemplating giving affected businesses grants to compensate for costs incurred from the roadway name changes.
Supervisor James Walkinshaw (D-Braddock) opposed writing a check to every business on the affected, corridors and said he favored reimbursing only demonstrated expenses.