Threatened Route 66 looks to be saved by bill
Route 66, once a vital asphalt artery for the transportation of peoples and goods, has in the recent past been reinvented as the lifeblood of a growing tourism enterprise. But according to observers of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Mother Road is under threat.
The trust tapped Route 66 on its 2018 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places, an effort that, in conjunction with the congressional effort to have the Main Street of America designated a National Historic Trail, could ensure the long-term future of a major source of tourist interest for many towns and cities — including Pontiac.
“Route 66 has fueled America’s imagination, popular culture, and passion for the open road for nearly a century,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “It deserves a place not just in our rearview mirror, but on our roadmap of unique travel experiences for generations to come.
“For over 30 years, our 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list has called attention to threatened one-of-a-kind treasures throughout the nation and galvanized Americans to help local communities save them. As it has over the past three decades, we hope this list inspires people to speak out for the cherished places in their own communities that define our nation’s past.”
The trust boasts that nearly 300 places have been on its list in the more than three decades of its existence, and less than 5 percent of those sites have been lost.
The placing of Route 66 on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list comes on the heels of the unanimous, June 5 passage of HR801, a U.S. House of Representatives bill sponsored by Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria. The legislation proposes to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail, which would afford it better protection as well as create economic opportunities for the cities and towns that lie along it, according to The Road Ahead Partnership, an organization that seeks to revitalize Route 66.
“For nearly a century, Route 66 has been a crucial transportation artery for the heartland of America,” LaHood said following the vote. “Towns across the nation and throughout my district have seen the Mother Road bring tourism, employment, a higher quality of life, and civic pride to their communities."
“We appreciate the support of this legislation, because it will allow visitors from around the world to experience the history of Route 66 while our local businesses and tourism industries receive the economic benefits.” In order to become a public act, the U.S. Senate must also move on its passage and the president must sign it into law.
The importance of preserving the route is nowhere more apparent than in Pontiac, which has reinvented itself as a tourism hub premised around the Mother Road. Only three weeks ago was the city the site of Lipton’s “Refreshingly Road Trippin’ with Lipton” event, which involved the renaming of city’s part of Route 66 “The Lipton Highway.”
Pontiac Tourism Director Ellie Alexander called it a “huge plus” to have the major historic highway so designated, and believed it would allow Pontiac and other cities to do more with the route.
“It was help us to do some of the things to help preserve it so that in the future, it’ll still be there for people that are really interested in its historic nature,” she said. “Route 66 really seems to give a clear definition of what our country is, with all the different landscapes, the farms and flatlands, and out through the desert. I think that’s why it’s so iconic, because you can get a look at America and all its facets.
“While saying it’s endangered sounds scary, it’ll be a bid deal to draw some local and national interest for a change, whereas it seems a lot of the interest in its preservation is international at the moment. The naming of it to the list, as well as the legislative push, is maybe bringing it more to the forefront of Route 66′s home country.”