If it were up to a majority of local business and property owners, the Fairfax County portions of Routes 29 and 50 would simply adopt those numbers as their official names.
County staff revealed yesterday (Tuesday) the results of a survey asking business and property owners located on Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial highways (Route 50) what their preference for new names would be.
The survey provided five options for each road, but in each instance, the original route number won out, staff said at the Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting.
For Lee Highway, about 55% of the 86 respondents chose Route/Highway 29 as the preferred new name. For Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, more than 60% of the 62 respondents chose Route 50.
Several board members agreed that, in terms of efficiency and continuity, reverting back to the road number is probably the best route.
“Frankly, I’m not surprised by the responses to the name changes, if we were to move forward with those,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said, adding later that “in terms of implications on businesses and people who live along these corridors…that would be the least intrusive and, frankly, easiest for drivers and commuters.”
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik suggested the board consider aligning the roads’ names with neighboring jurisdictions to prevent further confusion among those driving in the region.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity asked whether the survey included a question about if the businesses and property owners wanted name changes at all. Staff said it didn’t due to a previous task force determination that the names should be changed.
The ongoing process of changing the names of the two major thoroughfares in the county began in 2020 when the Fairfax County History Commission unveiled a report that showed about 150 public sites in the county were named after Confederate figures or symbols.
Then, a task force was appointed specifically to review renaming Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial. That group recommended late last year to rename the two roads, and earlier this year, alternate names were recommended to the Board of Supervisors.
Outreach to businesses and property owners along these corridors was the next step.
Now, the Board of Supervisors needs to approve new names, commit to the costs associated with the changes, and submit a request to the Commonwealth Transportation Board. At this time, it’s unclear when all of that might happen.
The survey also inquired that if the name changes would result in any financial expenses for the businesses. For both highways, more than 70% of respondents answered yes, citing potential expenses related to legal documents, signage, and marketing.
In response, the committee discussed ways to help or reimburse businesses on these expenditures when the name changes do happen including a grant system and a reimbursement program.
Regardless of the final names, the county is responsible for paying the cost of updating signage and way-marking. The staff determined the overall cost could range from $1 million to $4.2 million.
The price will depend on which names are selected, with the cost increasing for longer names.
A task force of nearly 30 people has recommended renaming two highways in Fairfax County, following concerns that their invocation of the Confederacy runs counter to the county’s goal of creating an inclusive environment.
After months of meetings and debate, the Confederate Names Task Force voted 20-6 yesterday (Tuesday) in favor of a change for Lee Highway (also known as Route 29) and 19-6 for Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50), with at-large member Tim Thompson abstaining.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and state’s Commonwealth Transportation Board would have to sign off on any name changes.
Some committee members argued that renaming the highways would “erase history.” Jenee Lindner, one of four Springfield District representatives, said doing so was wrong.
“If we’re going to move forward, let’s eradicate that term, ‘erasing history.’ It’s not true. Personally, we’re erasing stupidity and injustice and immorality,” Pastor Paul Sheppard from Providence District countered.
Dranesville District representative Barbara Glakas, a retired teacher from Fairfax County Public Schools, said if Confederate leaders had their way, the U.S. might look more like Europe, with fragmented countries, and slavery might have continued for much longer.
The task force’s votes diverged from the results of the public survey, where 23,500 respondents said they support keeping the names as they are, and 16,265 called for changing them.
“We can’t just ignore that opinion, whether you agree with it or not,” said Braddock District’s Robert Floyd, who voted against the recommendations and was one of a handful of people who tuned into the meeting remotely.
The survey was more designed to be a pulse check than as a poll that met scientific sampling standards and could be representative of the entire population. It had a mechanism to prevent people from taking it repeatedly, but it only blocked Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, meaning people could still participate multiple times, skewing results.
For respondents who wanted the highways to be renamed, many people proposed using Route 29 and Route 50, which are already used on maps.
Sully District committee member Marvin Powell said society renames things all the time and the county needs to think of the citizens of today and tomorrow.
The committee also discussed how families’ properties were taken by eminent domain for the roads in question. Sheppard said his family was affected and joked one road could have originally been named after his family.
The Board of Supervisors appointed the task force in July after the Fairfax County History Commission compiled an inventory of streets, monuments, and public places with names tied to the Confederacy. It found “approximately 157 assets, including parks, within the County that bear confirmed Confederate associated names,” the December 2020 report said.
Michael Champness, an at-large member of the Confederate Names Task Force, said before the votes that changing the two highway names sends an important message, but the county doesn’t necessarily need to rename all of those landmarks.
“We might be in a good position to maybe call a truce after this,” he said, before voting “yes” on each motion. “I think it’s very important to change these names because it’s important to be heard. It’s important for action to take place…but I don’t think we need to try and change every street name.”
The task force is scheduled to vote on Dec. 13 on alternative names to recommend to the Board of Supervisors, which could schedule a public hearing and act on the recommendations in early 2022.