Putting aside any last questions about renaming the state's largest airport for one of the most prominent Marylanders, state and airport officials yesterday unveiled the new logo for the newly minted Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Left unclear is what people will call the new BWI.
"BWI Thurgood Marshall," suggested Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., the Baltimore County Democrat who introduced the bill this year renaming the airport, which becomes official this Saturday.
"When I first heard Reagan National it sounded strange, but now it sounds normal," he said of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, renamed in 1998. "BWI Thurgood Marshall sounds like a mouthful, but it will sound normal, too." Others agreed on BWI Thurgood Marshall, or even just "Thurgood Marshall" for short.
The General Assembly debated the cost and practicality of changing the airport name to honor the first African-American Supreme Court justice until the final hours of this year's legislative session, with the state Board of Public Works giving final approval for the measure in August. Marshall, who served on the court from 1967 to 1991, died in 1993.
The airport plans to put up a temporary sign in front of the airport with Marshall's name in script sandwiched in between "International" and "Airport." Most of the rest of the directional signs on the highways and on the airport shuttle buses won't be done for years.
To reduce the cost of replacing stationery, signs and everything else that displays the airport name, estimated at about $2 million, the legislature agreed to wait for their regular maintenance schedules. That will reduce the extra costs to about $100,000.
"You'll start to see new signs today, but the whole program will take time because the buses, for example, are new and don't need painting," said Paul J. Wiedefeld, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, which oversees the airport.
"This is an honor, and we're getting to work on it all," Wiedefeld said.
A memorial in the center of the airport will be done by February, he said.
Others said the timing of the signs didn't matter because it would take more for the name to take hold.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who lobbied for the bill in Annapolis, said everyone will have to get on board, including the airlines and the media. He said he could wait for the name to take hold and for the critics to be assuaged - just as he waited to take his first flight. He came to the airport as a child with his father to watch planes land and take off, but they couldn't afford to fly.
"Thurgood Marshall's name will send a message to children that no matter what color you are, there is opportunity," the Baltimore Democrat said.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. noted the obstacles to passing the renaming bill, just as there were to Marshall achieving his success: Comptroller William Donald Schaefer said Marshall was opposed to the renaming because Marshall wasn't a fan of his home state.
Others feared any new name would harm airport and state business by confusing travelers and that marketing would be more expensive. BWI was renamed in 1973 from Friendship International Airport specifically because it didn't convey its location.
Lawmakers dealt with some concerns by placing Marshall's name at the end of the existing name. And the three-letter airport code BWI won't change.
"You can have the opinion that this is not the right thing to do," Ehrlich said. "But we won."