If you were a public figure long ago, back before the Washington megalopolis was a spaghetti bowl of concrete and asphalt, it would have been easy to name a road after you.
Take Shirley Highway. That road, aka Interstate 395, is named after Henry Garnett Shirley, head of Virginia's highway department from 1922 to 1941, a record-setting 19 years. He shepherded the department from the era of dirt roads into the age of modern highways.
Kathleen Seefeldt got her name on it, but it's still the Prince William Parkway.
(2001 Photo Margaret Thomas -- The Washington Post)
People who put their imprint on the region more recently have to settle for having roads dedicated after them, not named.
The Dulles Toll Road is also the Hirst-Brault Expressway, dedicated to Omer L. Hirst and Adelard L. Brault, members of the Virginia Assembly who pushed to have the highway built.
Similar honors were bestowed upon Jack Herrity, the former Fairfax County supervisor, who when zipping along the Fairfax County Parkway can feel good that it's also the John F. (Jack) Herrity Parkway. One county over is the Kathleen K. Seefeldt Parkway, the road that everyone calls the Prince William Parkway and that honors Kathleen Seefeldt, the former chairman of Prince William's Board of County Supervisors.
The Baltimore-Washington Parkway honors Gladys Noon Spellman, the former Prince George's County commissioner and congresswoman from Maryland who died in 1988.
Why not just rename the roads? It's a question people ask the Maryland Department of Transportation all the time. "As a practical matter," says the department's Web site, "designation or renaming would typically entail costly reprinting of maps, replacing signs well beyond the immediate area, and the reorientation of drivers, particularly those traveling through an unfamiliar area."
In other words, it would just confuse the heck out of us.
-- John Kelly