From the earliest days of cross-country travel, to a popular 1960-64 TV program, the legendary efforts to protect and preserve what’s left of the roadway, Route 66 lives on….. or does it?

The magic of the historic Route 66 Highway across America never seems to lose its appeal.  Route 66 was the first cross-country highway that, by 1938, was fully paved. All other highways at the time were rough roads by any description; a combination of dirt, gravel and asphalt Route 66 was then the easiest, quickest and safest way to get from Chicago to Los Angeles. Decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985, it was removed from most maps. Route 66 traversed eight states, from Illinois to California, and was the means by which travelers and tourists found both enjoyable places to eat but clean and safe lodging in the hundreds of small towns along the roadway.

The federal law authorizing the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program is set to expire in two years and without the funding millions of dollars in preservation and protecting the highway and its landmarks could disappear, so time remains for lawmakers find a solution. The solution may exist in  a bipartisan Congressional bill designating Route 66 as a National Historic Trail. Sponsored by Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Illinois) and supported by twelve other members of Congress, the Historic Trail designation includes annual funding that would help non-profit groups continue efforts to save buildings and landmarks along the route.


A 2009 article by Megan Gambino in the Smithsonian Magazine describing both the history and legacy of Route 66, and the highway’s condition.  In her following article, she detailed both the initial funding authorized by Congress ($10 million over a 10-year period) and the actual annual spending closer to $300,000.  With modern highway construction commonly reaching one million dollars per mile, $300K doesn’t seem to be much to save the roadway, let alone the small business that line the roadway.

Writing about the Joad family's journey from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma to the promised land of California in The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck famously called Route 66 the "mother road." But today it's more of an impoverished great-grandmother.

Want more?  Read:  The Mystique of Route 66 by David Lamb, the Smithsonian Magazine

The 2,400-mile highway, which starts in Chicago and passes through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in Los Angeles, will turn 83 this year—and it's not aging gracefully. Derelict gas stations, restaurants and trading posts, often vandalized, line its rural stretches, their neon signs long since dimmed. Developers are bulldozing quirky motels to make room for generic high-rises. And in places where traffic was once so thick it took ten minutes for a pedestrian to cross the road, you can spread a cloth and have a picnic, says Michael Wallis, a leading advocate for the preservation of the route.

Soaring automobile sales, coupled with the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921—which called for the networking of roads—provided the impetus for the highway. Cyrus Avery, an Oklahoma state highway official, and Springfield, Missouri, entrepreneur John Woodruff mapped out Route 66's diagonal course based on existing trails blazed by Native Americans, explorers and soldiers. And though it wasn't the first or longest of its kind, Route 66 was the shortest, most temperate year-round stretch between the Midwest and the West Coast. During World War II, soldiers hitchhiked on it. 

After the war, Americans took to the highways as never before, and a distinctive roadside culture—diners, motor courts and kitschy tourist traps—grew up along Route 66 to cater to them.

"It became a stage on which Americans acted out their aspirations," says Roger White, curator of road transportation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Dubbed the "Main Street of America" by Avery, it inspired Bobby Troup's song "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" (recorded by Nat King Cole and, later, the Rolling Stones), Jack Kerouac's beatnik bible On the Road, the 1960’s television series "Route 66" and, most recently, Pixar's animated film Cars.

Route 66's popularity led to its downfall, with traffic swelling beyond its two-lane capacity. In 1956, legislation created the Interstate System, and over the course of three decades, five separate interstates bypassed segment after segment of Route 66. Its signature black-and-white shield markers were taken down, and in 1985, Route 66 was officially decommissioned.

But Route 66 would not go quietly. "I got tired of people talking about the road in the past tense," says Wallis, who, in 1990, wrote Route 66: The Mother Road, a seminal biography of the highway. Today, 85 percent of Route 66 remains drivable, and some businesses thrive among the casualties.
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand is still serving up cones in St. Louis; Stanton, Missouri's Meramec Caverns still gives tours; and the famous Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, still offers a night's stay in a 30- by 16-foot concrete wigwam. "It's a labor of love, these motels," says John Lewis, an owner of the Wigwam. "I don't think the guests fully realize the effort it takes to keep these things going."

Driving a stretch of the route between Albuquerque and Gallup in the late 1980’s, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici was saddened by the deteriorating filling stations and shuttered mom-and-pop stores. He introduced a bill to preserve the highway. Authorized in 1999, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program has been involved with 86 projects, including the repair of Lewis' wigwams. But while the legislation authorized the program to receive up to $10 million over the course of its ten-year life span, actual appropriations have been averaging around $300,000 a year, which is reduced by more than half by the salaries of two staff members and travel and administrative costs. "It's done some wonderful things," says Kaisa Barthuli, the program's manager. "But folks are a little discouraged." And the ten-year preservation effort is scheduled to end this year. A proposal to extend the program is part of an omnibus bill that is not expected to pass. "We're keeping our fingers crossed," says Barthuli. "We have a lot more work to do."

Most supporters of the preservation of Route 66 agree that the highway needs money, awareness and a national voice that can speak and act on its behalf. The World Monuments Fund named Route 66 to its Watch List of endangered sites in 2008, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation included its motels on a list of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places" in 2007. Wallis and others, including representatives from the eight state Route 66 associations, are in the process of forming a national nonprofit called the Route 66 Alliance to help with fundraising.

"It's a tremendous cross section of American history along those 2,400 miles," says Barthuli. "If we lose those stories, we're really losing a sense of ourselves."

Enter “THE PLAN” – by Two Guys Named Fred

The first is Fred Rael, who along with his wife, Virginia, own and operate the Sedillo Hill Travel Center on Old Route 66. Rael doesn’t care for the N.M. 333 designation and has been busy over the past couple of years bending the ears of anyone who might be able to change the designation back to Route 66.

“I think it’s very important for New Mexico,” Rael said. “It’s good for business. There are a lot of Route 66 aficionados out there.”

Rael also has another ally in his effort to bring back Route 66.

His name is Fred Cain, an RV dealer from Indiana who is attempting to get Route 66 recommissioned.

Cain points out that U.S. highway designations are not the job of the federal Department of Transportation, but are “managed entirely by the transportation departments in the individual states and coordinated through the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.”

However, Congress could pass legislation to make the recommendation that Route 66 be reinstated.

Cain says he has been unable to get such legislation considered. He pointed out that of the state’s Route 66 passes through, only one has a representative on a transportation committee — New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall.

Cain said he’s working at building a network of Route 66 supporters in each state along the route to help convince local officials of the importance of Route 66 designation.

“When we first started, we’d get polite letters but little help,” Cain said. “Now there is a lot more support from the states.”

Both Fred’s’ said that the best way to help the effort to get Route 66 is to contact federal and state representatives. And to facilitate such a grassroots movement, Fred Cain has launched a group named 
“Bring Back Route 66” and has officially presented a compelling argument as to why Route 66 should be reinstated as an official US Highway. Cain has both a web site and a Yahoo discussion page available for true lovers of classical American automotive history to contribute your thoughts and opinions.

Bring Back Route 66
Yahoo Bring Back Route 66 Discussion Group

What follows are excerpts from the “Bring Back Route 66” web site.  

If you would like to discuss plans to reinstate Route 66 as an official U.S. designated route and exchange ideas as to how best bring such plans to fruition, please visit the Bring Back U.S. Route 66 E-Group. Other subjects pertaining to Route 66 are welcome. Plans and ideas on how to bring back other "lost" U.S. Route designations such as U.S. 99 or the western ends of U.S. 40 and U.S. 80 are also welcome.

A Comprehensive Plan for a New U.S. 66

The Route 66 Recommissioning Initiative offers a suggested Route 66 plan for a new U.S. Route 66 using historic U.S. Route 66 alignments. 

As one of our truly great national treasures, the popularity of Route 66 continues to explode. By some estimates, 200,000 or more people per year are trying to drive on Route 66. Unfortunately, since its decommissioning in 1985, simply finding and staying on Route 66 can be a major challenge. 

Route 66 has now been declared a Scenic Byway in six states but according to a Rutgers University study, finding and staying on Route 66 is still the number one complaint of Route 66 tourists. This is largely because signage is often inadequate and inconsistent and the Route still does not appear on many maps. In a few cases, the Route is even signed by markers of some completely different state highway number which only adds to the confusion. 

Re-establishing the official "66" U.S. Route designation would address these issues. Most desirable of all is that a U.S. designation would provide a uniform and consistent, state-to-state marking plan for long-distance Route 66 travelers. 

What follows here is a concise yet comprehensive plan that would accomplish these objectives:
Designate as U.S. Route #66 those existing facilities currently designated as "Historic" Route 66 or "Byway" 66 from Chicago, Illinois (East Jackson Drive & U.S. 41) to Santa Monica, California (Santa Monica Blvd. & Ocean Ave.).

For locations where two parallel or competing facilities are currently designated as "Historic" or "Byway" Route 66, the primary routing(s) (as determined by the respective state D.O.T.) would receive the U.S. Route designation whereas the secondary facilities may be designated as U.S. "Alternate" 66 or U.S. "Business" 66 at the respective state D.O.T.'s discretion. In order to determine a primary or secondary routing, the respective state D.O.T. should consider the duration that the facility carried the U.S. 66 Route designation in the past along with general conditions and the safety of the facility.

In locations where more than two competing, parallel facilities are presently designated as "Historic" or "Byway" 66, the primary routing (as determined by the State D.O.T.) would receive the U.S. Route designation and one secondary route may be designated as U.S. "Alternate" 66 or U.S. "Business" 66 while additional parallel facilities would receive no official U.S. Route designation but may continue to be marked with "Historic" or "Byway" 66 commemorative markers.

At locations where there are presently no existing facilities designated as "Byway" or "Historic" 66, the new "66" U.S. Route designation will be co-designated with a nearby Interstate highway or other state highway facility to be determined by the respective State D.O.T. In determining such a facility, the respective State D.O.T. should, when possible, favor a routing that once carried the U.S. Route 66 designation in the past.

It shall be noted that the status of the new U.S. Route 66 will be a designation ONLY and shall not initiate, demand or mandate the implementation of any significant alterations in infrastructure other than new signs. The new U.S. Route 66 designation must also respect and comply with all existing 
Byway criteria and guidelines.

Route 66 advocates and enthusiasts should write to their Reps and Senators and urge them to authorize and appropriate federal funds to pay for new signs. An average allocation of $1,500 per mile would provide Route 66 with splendid signage including MUTCD-type U.S. Route junction and directional markers, reassurance markers as well as exit markers from intersecting Interstate, U.S. and state highways in each of the eight states that Historic Route 66 passes through.

While this is intended to be a comprehensive plan that would both re-sign the old historic Route as well as return the icon to ALL road maps, it is not the only plan available to bring back Route 66. To view alternative methods of re-commissioning U.S. Route 66, please see alternative plans.

Two questions that have occasionally come up over the years are, number one, if the U.S. 66 designation is restored, what alignment or alignments of old 66 would it or could it be put on? And number two, what would a new U.S designation "do" to the old road? Would it destroy the charm of Old Route 66 by turning it back into a "modern federal" highway"?

In addressing the first concern on alignments, this dilemma has now been largely addressed through the coming of the Scenic Byways. Since the Byway people have now already decided on the alignments, all a U.S. Route recommissioning would do would be to add signs and restore the Route to all maps.

On the second concern, as to what a U.S. Highway designation would actually do to the old road, the real answer is (other than lots of new signs): Nothing. A new U.S. Route designation would probably be less intrusive than several other plans that have surfaced.

An important concept to grasp is that above and beyond all else, the Route 66 Recommissioning Initiative is strictly a re-signing proposal and NOT a "highway" plan.

In any event, there are now tens of thousands - perhaps hundreds of thousands - of people attempting to drive Route 66 every year and this might be only the beginning. Surely the need of those travelers justifies restoring the designation. Above and beyond this need is the fact that Route 66 has been a major force in America and is a truly unique American institution in its own right. Re-commissioning would provide Route 66 with an element of permanence, a little bit like grounding a monument base in concrete.


The Route 66 Association, created in 2001 in  Seligman, Arizone. the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. According to program manager Kaisa Barthuli, the program has doled out $2 million for nearly 150 projects, and another $3.3 million has been raised in matching funds.


Stop Albuquerque Rapid Transit - Save Route 66 on Central

According to the Save Route 66 efforts, Route 66 does not belong to Albuquerque. It belongs to America. Route 66 is the "Mother Road" of America, America's Highway. The 10 or 11 historical locations on Route 66 in Albuquerque will become invisible to the memory and history of New Mexico and our country. Having such a responsibility requires careful thinking in the future of Albuquerque. The City of Albuquerque's plan to put a rapid transit system down the main street and Route 66 is not where we want to spend our immense talent or taxpayer's money.

This ALBUQUERQUE RAPID TRANSIT "plan is a waste of money that will destroy small businesses along Central, make the already traffic-congested street more so, and do nothing to build a thriving, private-sector economy" while replacing the ABQ RIDE and the RAPID RIDE system on Central - that works perfectly well.

During the proposed 2 year construction plan, many businesses will fail before seeing the project completed, just like the businesses that failed during the Lead and Coal project. In addition many of the left turns will be eliminated on Central in both directions and the proposed solution is U-turns. The negative economic impact of this Central plan has not been reviewed or published, vs the claims of an economic development on an already heavily commercialized street. 

"According to the U.S. Census Bureau only 1.6% of people over the age of 16 in the First Congressional District now use public transportation to get to their jobs."  

This is a solution looking for a problem. Albuquerque is not a congested city, Albuquerque is not a dense city, but Albuquerque is part of the West, land of open spaces. If we wanted high density, multi-storied buildings, more mechanized transportation, and no landscaping, no greenery, and no foliage, we would move to New York City.

click here: SaveRT66


As one of millions who has driven portions of Route 66 in New Mexico and Arizona, the historical value is priceless Americana. For classic car owners near and far, Garagistry encourages Collectors and Enthusiasts alike to contact their Congressional Representative and urge them to get involved and SAVE ROUTE 66.  After all, where else will we have the opportunity to drive our classics on a road cruise back in time? 

And remember - "You'll get your kicks on Route 66..."

The Garagistry Team