It’s more than a picturesque and funky roadway. Along with dozens of state and local interest groups, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is on a quest to preserve Route 66 and have the iconic highway formally designated by Congress as a “national historic trail.”
Should the effort succeed, Route 66 would join 19 other national historic trails including the Santa Fe and Lewis & Clark trails and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.
Established in 1926, the famous road originally stretched 2,448 miles through eight states, from Chicago to Santa Monica, California — and inspired one famous song and a TV series along the way. It was removed from the nation’s interstate highway system in 1985.
“There’s nothing quite like Route 66. It’s the most culturally celebrated and internationally recognized stretch of highway in America, where generations of open road seekers got their kicks and experienced the quintessential road trip. But Route 66’s history runs much deeper than that,” notes an active National Trust public petition.
“As our nation’s first all-paved U.S. Highway System connecting the Midwest to California, it played a significant role in the Dust Bowl, Great Depression, and World War II. But over time, travelers began bypassing Route 66 for the interstate — causing the independent businesses, rich roadside architecture, and kitschy landmarks and attractions the roadway was known for to slowly diminish. By the 1960s, many communities and businesses along the route fell into deep decay — or disappeared entirely,” the petition states.
The effort to preserve Route 66 has considerable support. The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership — which includes a “vintage hotel task force” — was established three years ago with support from both the National Park Service and the World Monuments Fund.
There’s also help on Capitol Hill. In mid-July, the U.S. House passed a bill to establish a “federal level” commission to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of Route 66. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis, Illinois Republican, some 18 months ago. Two states also have produced similar bills, with more on the way.
In the meantime, the National Trust is just finishing up a five-week epic road trip along Route 66 to draw attention to the efforts, sending a crew from “Chicago to LA,” as the famous 1946 rhythm and blues tune “Route 66” once advised. The journey ends on Wednesday.
The Road Ahead Partnership has set a goal of U.S. Senate approval of the new legislation and a signature from President Trump by or before the end of the year.
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