A bill to change the name of U.S. 1 in Virginia from Jefferson Davis Highway to Emancipation Highway passed the Virginia Senate this week with bipartisan support.
The bill, which was introduced by Del. Josh Cole, D-Fredericksburg, was approved earlier by the House of Delegates. It needs only the signature of Gov. Ralph Northam to become law, effective Jan. 1, 2022.
But even after the 30-9 vote on the Senate floor Thursday, it remains unclear what the affected localities in the Fredericksburg area will rename the stretch of U.S. 1 running between their borders. The bill applies only to areas where U.S. 1 is still named after the former president of the Confederacy, giving local governments almost a year to adopt a different name.
Stafford County Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer said the Board of Supervisors will vote soon on a resolution asking the Commonwealth Transportation Board for permission to rename U.S. 1 Richmond Highway. Dudenhefer said Richmond Highway makes the most sense as a replacement in Stafford because the county’s Northern Virginia neighbors have already renamed it that.
“Richmond Highway is what Prince William grabbed. It’s what Fairfax grabbed,” Dudenhefer said. “[Stafford] would just be a logical extension of that.”
There is a stretch of U.S. 1 named Cambridge Street in the Falmouth area of Stafford that wouldn’t be affected by the bill.
Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said the city has no plans to veer away from the recommended Emancipation Highway name. Spotsylvania County and Caroline County have not formally discussed whether to go with Emancipation Highway or seek another name.
At a meeting earlier this month, Spotsylvania’s Board of Supervisors discussed asking the General Assembly to delay the name change or not to approve it “at this time” because of concerns about costs for business owners and residents. Instead, the county later voted unanimously to ask the state to establish a fund to cover the costs associated with the name change.
That’s unlikely to happen as the bill requires localities to pay for the costs. The bill’s impact statement lists the costs in the area as $102,000 for Stafford, $94,000 for Spotsylvania and $18,000 for Caroline.
There is no cost listed for Fredericksburg on the impact statement, but city public information officer Sonja Cantu said it’s approximately $90,000.
Caroline Board of Supervisors Chairman Reginald Underwood said while the conversation about the highway hasn’t come up with the board, he believes it will in the near future. Underwood said the county will solicit input from residents.
Cole’s initial bill sought to rename the road Loving Memorial Highway after Caroline couple Richard and Mildred Loving, who successfully fought to end a ban on interracial marriage. Cole later learned that surviving family members objected to that, saying the couple wouldn’t have wanted the attention.
Underwood said the name definitely needs to be changed from Jefferson Davis but added the county won’t make any “unilateral” decisions without seeking input. He said Richmond Highway might confuse visitors because State Route 2 in the county is named Richmond Turnpike from south of Bowling Green through the Hanover County border.
“We’re going to do our absolute best to make sure there’s some clarity,” Underwood said.
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