Route 66 is the most famous American road in the world, so it’s kind of hard to believe that the route as a whole doesn’t have any official designation from the federal government. As it stands, various states have designated their respective portions as National Scenic Byways, but that doesn’t really do justice to the cultural and historical significance of the road.
There’s a bill making its way through Congress that could (God willing) change all of that, though. H.R.801 AKA the Route 66 National Historic Trail Designation Act is designed to not only give the Route an official title… it would also protect and preserve the route and the businesses that rely on it. Federal oversight and management, which the Route hasn’t had as a whole since it was removed from the US Highway System in 1985, would be awarded to the National Park Service, and it would be able to receive federal funds not just for preservation and protection, but for development and promotion.
Even small details uniform signage and resources (including maps) on the NPS website will make a massive difference, especially to those towns and businesses that rely on nostalgic Route 66 tourism to get by.
The bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) in January of 2017, and it wasn’t long before 21 co-sponsors from nine states (including representatives from all eight states through which the Route passes) had signed on. So far, the bill has passed through the House, and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Time is of the essence, as the current Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program is set to end in 2019, and the 100th anniversary of the founding of Route 66 is coming up in eight years.
If passed, Route 66 will join the likes of other historic trails such as the Oregon National Historic Trail, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. The NPS simply defines a National Historic Trail as “original trails or routes of travel of national historic significance including past routes of exploration, migration, and military action”, which Route 66 definitely qualifies as.
Here’s to hoping that designating Route 66 as a National Historic Trail is one thing that can unite our increasingly divided political system and give us one shining spot of positivity in a… tense… time!