Another Richmond Highway nearby? Some want that for Route 1 in City of Alexandria

Jefferson Davis Highway street sign

Jefferson Davis’s name won’t be on street signs in the City of Alexandria much longer.

The City of Alexandria is seeking suggestions for what to rename a section of Route 1 near Potomac Yards, and “Richmond Highway” appears to be a popular choice as a potential replacement.

The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously last September to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway, which is the moniker given to Route 1 from the city’s border with Arlington to the northern edge of Old Town. 

Davis, a slave owner and secessionist, was president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. 

The city began asking the public to submit ideas for a new name earlier this month, and Alexandria’s advisory group on renaming the highway will make a recommendation to the city manager in October. The city has no plans to change the name of Route 1 in Old Town, where the road becomes Henry Street (southbound) and Patrick Street (northbound) before combining into Patrick Street again prior to the Fairfax County border. 

Not surprisingly, discussion of the name change has been a popular topic on social media this week, particularly in the wake of last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville. While many possible alternatives for a new name have been debated, “Richmond Highway” has popped up repeatedly as an option.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Justin Wilson is among those who have stated their preference for Richmond Highway. 

Politicians representing the Richmond Highway corridor in Fairfax have also stated their support for Alexandria using “Richmond Highway.” State Sen. Adam Ebbin said in December that he favored Alexandria going with Richmond Highway. Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay told Covering the Corridor that using “Richmond Highway” would lessen confusion and benefit commuters.

“Many different names for the same major roadway within a short distance is confusing to motorists,” McKay said. “A single name for a longer distance would no doubt be extremely helpful to those commuting in, out, and around the area.” 

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, as well as State Sen. Scott Surovell, who represents much of the Richmond Highway area in Fairfax, both agreed.

“Richmond Highway would at least promote some consistency and is non-political,” said Surovell. “I think Historic Route 1 is another good choice.”

Name unlikely to change in other counties

Alexandria isn’t the only locality in Northern Virginia to use Jefferson Davis Highway as a name for U.S. Route 1. Arlington County, Prince William County and Stafford County also use it, and that probably won’t change any time soon.

Unlike cities, counties in Virginia require authorization from the General Assembly to make such a change. Arlington politicians have expressed a desire to change the name, but that appears a long shot. Earlier this year the General Assembly passed a bill — later vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — designed to prevent localities from removing memorials related to the confederacy. 

Neither Prince William County nor Stafford County have formally discussed changing the name of its own Jefferson Davis Highway. 

Southeast Fairfax’s identity

There’s also a question of how much changing the name of Route 1 in the City of Alexandria to “Richmond Highway” would affect the “branding” of Fairfax County’s own Richmond Highway.

It’s common among younger residents who have grown up in the area to refer to themselves as being from “The Highway,” and there’s been a push in recent years by some community leaders to avoid calling the area “The Route 1 corridor” and instead refer to it as Richmond Highway. Even the county’s major initiative to transform the Route 1 corridor is called Embark Richmond Highway

Jay Roberts, a local historian who has authored two books about Alexandria’s history, has written on his blog in favor of changing the name from Jefferson Davis Highway. But he’s against the city going with Richmond Highway because that’s what the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation has branded the Route 1 area in Fairfax. 

“Changing the name of Jefferson Davis Highway is certainly the right thing to do,” Roberts said. “Finding the new right name will require a lot of thoughtful work.”