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Bill to name local highway after fallen soldier, now idle on Capitol Hill

Posted at 9:27 PM, Feb 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-09 23:27:08-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A grassroots effort to rename a Tooele County highway after a local fallen soldier has stalled in the current legislative session on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

For more than a year, members of the Grantsville community have been working to rename the Midvalley Highway (SR-179), the ‘Jordan Byrd Memorial Highway.’

Army PFC Byrd died in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) near the Pakistan border in 2010. Byrd was an Army medic with the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. According to family, he died during a gunfight while working to save other soldiers.

“We’ve done our research and Veterans have a highway from one end of the state to the other and there’s a Purple Heart highway and other states have numerous highways named after (fallen soldiers) because I’ll drive through it and I’ll look at the name and I don’t know if its just us losing a soldier but I always google it and see what happened to that person,” said Jodi Steinfeldt, Jordan Byrd’s Aunt who would love to see the naming of the road come to fruition. “Just not really sure why there’s not support for it.”

As of Wednesday, SB-54 moved swiftly through the Senate but has since seen no movement in the House. According to bill sponsor Senator David Hinkins, he’s seeking a local Tooele County representative to act as floor sponsor.

However, both Tooele area Representatives Merrill Nelson and Doug Sagers, say they are not backing the name change.

Rep. Nelson shared an email statement:

“As I explained to the family seeking this honor, the state generally does not name its properties after private individuals. Over the years, a few exceptions have been made for state officials, such as former governors, whose long and distinguished leadership and service to the state provide a fitting nexus with the property so named.  Other veterans have also contacted me with the concern that it would be unfair to single out one individual for such an honor to the exclusion of the many other veterans who have served our country and even given their lives--with no such public and perpetual honor as the one sought here.  The Midvalley Highway has been so named from its inception twenty years ago.  That name is descriptive of its purpose and course, and I am aware of no plans to change it.” 

On Wednesday, members of the Byrd family along with Gold Star supporters and families alike, gathered in the Capitol rotunda to spread the word about the bill.

“This is not about just one person but it's about many, many who have fallen that want to be honored in this way with Jordan’s highway,” said Kim Olsen, a Gold Star mother whose son Nigel Olsen was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. “I think it’s interesting that people say we will never forget, I’d like to see that happen, that people will remember and do something about it.”

Olsen feels like the name change will happen some way, somehow, but it may take more time to work with legislators to understand the meaning and significance behind it.

“One of the gold star mothers says to honor one is to honor all and to reject one is to reject them all,” said Steinfeldt, who reached out to other Golf Star families to ask about their feelings with honoring a fallen soldier with a named local highway. She says that she heard no negative feedback about the change.