As many knowledgeable observers are quick to point out, it would be clearly impossible to re-commission Route 66's old roadway as a through route. There are some sections, particularly in the far West, where the Interstate Highways that replaced it covered up Old Route 66. In other locations the old road is either out of service or in very poor condition. Yet there are still numerous, long stretches of the old road found in diverse locations that are in excellent condition and still maintained by the state highway departments. It's just that such roads are no longer designated as U.S. 66 by their respective state highway departments. Often some completely different state highway number may be assigned to the old road. This in turn leads to confusion and disappointment for those who wish to navigate Old Route 66 and see roadside markers posted for some completely different state highway number.
A good fix for this situation is to re-designate such state highway sections of Old Route 66 as a special U.S. Highway designation as defined by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The best official designation to use would be "Alternate". The Route could be officially re-designated as "Alternate" U.S. 66, but states have the leeway to post signs that would actually say "Historic U.S. 66". This has already been done in a few states but not as of yet on Route 66.
There are also stretches of original roadway that have been turned over to county maintenance but never the less remain in excellent condition and up to state standards or nearly so. These stretches could also be re-commissioned as a new U.S. "Alternate" 66 to be signed as "Historic" U.S. 66. But the issue of placing a new U.S. Route designation on a county highway will need to be resolved. In some cases it may be necessary for the state highway departments to re-annex the roadway to their state system.
Since an "Alternate" or "Business" designation cannot function by itself
as a stand-alone route, our new historic-signed Alternate U.S. 66 will need
some kind of a primary, "parent" highway to be connected to. The primary,
parent road will also provide the necessary long-distance continuity
normally associated with U.S. Numbered Highways. The most expedient way
accomplish this is to simply re-designate the five Interstate Highways
between Chicago and Santa Monica, California as U.S. 66 proper. This would
also have the effect of accomplishing the following additional objectives:
- First, it would pay national tribute to what is arguably the most famous highway in history by restoring U.S. Highway 66 to its prominent role in its traditional corridor as a living, functioning and relevant highway. Second, it would smooth and simplify long-distance navigation in the corridor by replacing five Interstate route numbers with a single U.S. route number. Third, it could give some people a taste of a Route 66 "experience" that might just simply not have time or are otherwise unable to drive down the old two-lane road from yesteryear.
- New signage placed at interchanges and junctions would direct tourists, history buffs, pleasure seekers and RV'ers to the old road ("Historic" U.S. 66) while retaining heavy industrial and time critical traffic on the freeway (U.S. 66). The resulting increase in tourist and recreation traffic on the old historic route will in turn bring new life to communities and businesses along the old road.
- Additionally, the old roadway also needs to be established as a National Scenic/Historic Byway. This would offer protection to the many historic roadside businesses and landmarks as well as to the roadway itself. The combination of official U.S. Highway designation and Historic Byway designation would complement each other. New U.S. Highway designation would put the Route back on standard road atlases and provide signage, while the Byway designation would offer historic protection. Does this great National treasure deserve anything less?
A PLAN FOR A TRI-STATE U.S. 66
An interesting idea was brought up on the U.S. Highways e-group that would recommission the U.S. 66 Route designation but limit the new U.S. 66 to the corridor between Springfield, MO and El Reno, OK. This is a rather simple and straightforward plan that might not be too difficult to implement.
Included would be the following three distinct advantages:
- It would only involve the transportation departments from three states which would be far less complicated than involving all eight.
- Most of the alignments that such a U.S. Route 66 would cover are already state (as opposed to county) highways and are a part of the state DOTs' state highway grid.
- AASHTO might be more inclined to go along with such a proposal since a large part of the corridor would offer itself as a "free" alternative to nearby toll roads - a policy that that AASHTO looks upon favorably.
The downside of such a plan is simply, what about the rest of the Mother Road? It was pointed out on the group that the remainder of the Mother Road could still be marked with "historic" or "Byway" markers. But the sad fact is that this might mean signage would remain inadequate and inconsistent in those areas, perhaps for years to come. Nevertheless, this is a proposal that should not be completely dismissed. Perhaps once such a routing was established, the ends could be added onto at a later date.
RECOMMISSION ROUTE 66 AS AN "ALL AMERICAN ROAD"
A somewhat different way to "recommission" Route 66 would be to have the federal government declare it an "All American Road".
All American Roads are the highest level that can be achieved for National Scenic Byways. The National Road, for example, is an All American Road (AAR) that runs from the Baltimore area to St. Louis, with much of it overlaid over U.S. Route 40.
Route 66 is already an All American Road in the State of Arizona where it achieved the status in 2009. More can be read about All American Roads at http://byways.org/press/fact_sheet.html
Getting Route 66 declared an AAR over its entire length would go a long way in increasing the visibility and recognition of the Route. It would also have the following two distinct advantages:
- Establishing all of Route 66 as an All American Road would completely bypass the rather complex and perhaps cumbersome process of obtaining an AASHTO-approved U.S. Route designation.
- It has come to our attention that, for whatever reasons, a few ardent Route 66 supporters just do not feel comfortable with an official U.S. Route designation but would support AAR status.
However, once Route 66 becomes firmly established as an All American Road, will that ensure that the Route will be adequately and thoroughly signed and returned to all road atlases? Unfortunately, the answer to that is unclear. Signage along Route 66 in Arizona is better than in some states but then again, that tended to be the case before the Route in Arizona gained All American Road status. If the entire length of Route 66 were to gain AAR status, perhaps a special provision for signage could be made based on Route 66's unique history as a numbered route.
An additional issue is that to gain AAR status at all, a road must first become established as a National Scenic Byway in each state the road passes through. This could be an issue for Route 66 since at the present time (2012) the State of Texas does not participate in the Byway program. It remains unclear if or how AAR status can be granted to the entire length of the Mother Road without Texas's participation.
Nevertheless, the benefits of AAR status to Route 66 are substantial enough that such an endeavor should be supported by Route 66 enthusiasts and advocates.
A 2,400 MILE LINEAR PARK?
Another suggestion that we've heard knocked around over the years is the idea of establishing Old Route 66 as one continuous, linear park from Chicago to Santa Monica. This would be the dream of every avid Route 66 supporter come true.
There are many places, especially out west, where Route 66 passes through National Forests, Indian reservations, BLM land or other government owned lands where this could be quite practical to do. However, establishing the Route as a linear park over its entire length would present astronomically huge obstacles.
For one thing, most of the road frontage property that Route 66 passes through is privately owned. The government would have to acquire that land at an astronomically huge cost - not too likely to happen in financially difficult times.
However, there is another park model where the government does not necessarily acquire the land but rather establishes park guideline rules whereby the people who reside or own land in the park live by those guidelines. Such a model exists in the huge Adirondack State Park in upstate New York where the State only owns part of the land in the park outright. The remainder of the lands are under private ownership but with park guidelines.
However, if such a model were to be implemented for Route 66, one can well imagine that there would be numerous adjacent landowners who would raise a fuss over having to live under the new linear park rules. For these reasons, we do not believe this is ever too likely to come to pass. But given the immense and ever growing popularity of Route 66 as one of our great national treasures, the idea should not be completely ruled out.
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