News Story

Bill Would Ban Naming Roads After Politicians

The honor would be limited to fallen service members and first responders

Renaming roads, bridges, and overpasses after politicians has long been a common practice here and in other states. But if one Michigan legislator gets his wish, the practice could come to an end here.

State Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, has introduced a bill that would ban the practice of naming state roads after politicians. It would limit that honor to first responders, corrections officers, and military service members who have died in the line of duty.

Currently, Michigan has 13 state highways, bridges, overpasses, interchanges and roads named after politicians. So far this year, Michigan legislators have introduced 19 bills that would rename a road. Three of those call for renaming a road after a politician: the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell, Wayne County Commissioner Martha G. Scott, and Julie Plawecki, a former member of the Michigan House of Representatives who died while in office.

Under O’Malley’s legislation, House Bill 4784, local governments could still name roads under their jurisdiction after politicians, provided that a private party put up $3,000 to cover related costs. The bill would impose a similar financial requirement for renaming state roads.

O’Malley explained that his bill was inspired by former Gov. Rick Snyder, who said he would only sign bills renaming roads for first responders and other nonpolitical figures.

“After coming to the Legislature, it seemed to me that Gov. Snyder had a good rule of thumb,” O’Malley said. “The naming of a local road after a local individual who was important to that community makes sense and would actually in my opinion honor that person more.”

Renaming infrastructure after politicians has been a source of controversy in the past. In 2017, a public outcry followed word that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had renamed the Tappan Zee bridge, which connects two cities north of New York City, after his late father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. Critics argued that the name “Tappan Zee” reflected the area’s American Indian and Dutch heritage. A petition on to revert the bridge to its old name garnered over 100,000 signatures, and two bills were introduced in the New York State Legislature with similar goals. The Daily Gazette, a newspaper in Schenectady, said in an editorial that the renaming was a publicity stunt for the governor.

“What better way to subliminally impart the Cuomo name in the brains of millions of potential voters by forcing drivers to say they’re ‘taking the Cuomo’ every day on their way in and out of the city?” the publication asked.

West Virginia has wrestled with similar issues. Robert Byrd represented the Mountain State in the U. S. Senate for over 50 years. Byrd garnered a reputation as a prodigious practitioner of “bringing home the bacon” by successfully pushing for relocating many federal government functions and the jobs associated with them to West Virginia. He is now is the namesake of 11 West Virginia roads, bridges, and expressways, in addition to a host of other public facilities. But Byrd’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1940s and his filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act have sparked questions about whether his name should be removed from public spaces.

If O’Malley’s bill becomes law, it will help Michigan avoid getting caught up in such controversies in the future.

“All local favorite sons and daughters would be better served by having a local road named for them,” he said. “With the passage of this bill I feel we will focus the attention where it will make the most impact.”