Route 66 facing another hurdle: the potential loss of federal funding

As if the communities scattered along old U.S. Route 66 haven’t faced enough turmoil already, there may be more trouble on the horizon for preservationists fighting to keep “The Mother Road” relevant.

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that the historic and iconic American roadway linking Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., may be dropped from a National Park Service preservation program, meaning it will lose vital federal funding. The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program isn’t set to expire for two years, however, so time remains for lawmakers find a solution.

The answer, according to the A.P., may be a bipartisan Congressional bill that would designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail. Sponsored by Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Illinois) and supported by 12 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.

Route 66—the subject of a hit song by Nat King Cole, a 1960s television series, and numerous documentaries through the years—attracts thousands of tourists each year. Known as the “Mainstreet of America,” it stretches nearly 2,500 miles through eight states. New Mexico is home to the longest section of the road (487 miles), while Kansas is home to the shortest portion (13 miles).

After slowly being replaced by modern interstate freeways in the 1950s and ’60s, which diverted travelers from small towns and tourist attractions along the way, Route 66 was officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985. Two years later, the Route 66 Association was created in Seligman, Ariz.; the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was established in 2001. 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.

Do you think tax dollars should be spent to preserve this old American artery and its landmarks? Or should the funds be diverted to other programs, such as maintaining more relevant infrastructure?