Lawmakers Seek to Rename Md. Highway to Honor Former President

President Obama is still wildly popular in Maryland. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

He’s had a fish named after him.

A mountain peak in Antigua and Barbuda.

A food court in Ireland.

And lots of elementary schools — including one in Westphalia, near Upper Marlboro.

There’s even a national holiday, Obama Day, in Kenya, to mark the 44th president’s 2008 election (or his birth, depending on your politics).

Despite the long list of tributes to President Obama, two members of the Maryland legislature hope to add to the list.

They have introduced legislation to rename MD 210, Indian Head Highway in Prince George’s and Charles counties, President Barack Obama Highway.

The legislation, Senate Bill 213, is sponsored by Sens. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) and Obie Patterson (D-Prince George’s).

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the bill this week, Ellis said Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, has a “tremendous legacy.”

He’s “a person most of us believe we can be very proud of,” the lawmaker added, noting that the former president won the Nobel Peace Prize and had “no conflict” in his administration.

Some members of the committee and a citizen who testified questioned the decision to rename a highway best known for fatal accidents, illegal street racing and epic commutes in honor of Obama, particularly since there is no apparent connection between the former president and the road.

“We’ve done every trick in the book relative to (MD) 210,” said Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s). “I’m just wondering how this is going to help to promote the image of 210, because it does not have a good reputation.”

Ellis called the bill “an opportunity to rebrand” the road, adding that efforts to improve safety and ease congestion must continue. “We’re working on a complete, holistic fix for that highway.”

As drafted, SB 213 would dedicate the highway to Obama’s legacy. Ellis said he and Patterson intend to amend the bill to provide for a formal renaming of Indian Head Highway instead. That approach, he acknowledged in an interview, would be much costlier.

Simply “dedicating” the highway to Obama would require approximately $12,500 from the Transportation Trust Fund, mostly for signage, according to a legislative analysis.

“If the intent of the bill is to officially rename the highway, costs increase by a significant but indeterminate amount,” analysts added.

For years, Native American groups have fought to change the name of Indian Head Highway and the Town of Indian Head, in northern Charles County, calling it disrespectful.

A petition drive has been launched at change.org.

The lawmakers introduced their legislation without the backing of the Prince George’s Council, which will discuss the bill for the first time next Tuesday.

Ellis also conceded that he and Patterson have not gone through the Maryland Transportation Commission process for formally renaming an existing road.

“Many other renamings occurred with legislation,” he told the panel, noting the General Assembly’s decision to rename the Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland the Nice-Middleton Bridge.

“This is a route that has been taken before.”

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.