House OKs Route 66 Bill

Posted: Thursday, July 01, 1999

Supporters of a national Route 66 preservation bill were thwarted last year but succeeded Wednesday when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the act by voice vote.

The measure budgets $10 million over 10 years and was sponsored by a trio of New Mexico representatives: Republicans Heather Wilson and Joe Skeen and Democrat Tom Udall.

"Today, we have preserved a piece of history and expanded tourism for those cities and towns in New Mexico and across the nation who are on America's Main Street," Wilson said. "Coordination of private, local, state and federal efforts will preserve a bygone era in American history that can still be revisited and will promote economic redevelopment in small towns that were bypassed by the interstate highway system."

However, some local Route 66 preservationists are only cautiously optimistic about the effects of the legislation.

"The jury is still out on that one. I don't know if it will help rural communities," said Joann Harwell of Vega, president of the Old Route 66 Association of Texas. "Rural communities don't have a lot to spend on matching-grant types of programs."

Publicity about the historic highway may be the biggest benefit for the smaller towns scattered along the route.

"People Magazine had heard about this bill and just came through here to do a photo essay on Route 66," Harwell said.

The photo shoot included regional residents in Elk City, Okla., Alanreed, Vega and Adrian, she said.

The U.S. Senate voted for a similar measure in March.

A legislative aide for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is comparing the bills to determine if they are identical, said Jude McCartin, a spokeswoman for Bingaman.

If there are differences, a conference committee will convene to work out a compromise, she said.

Wednesday's legislation authorizes the Interior Secretary to establish programs through the National Park Service to preserve the Route 66 corridor. The preservation efforts are to be coordinated with state, local, tribal and private institutions and will include grants and technical assistance to carry out preservation efforts, Wilson said.

Route 66, spanning eight states and covering 2,448 miles, ran between Chicago and Los Angeles. By the 1970s, much of the original roadway was replaced by the interstate highway system, and U.S. Route 66 officially was decommissioned in 1985.

The highway started out in the late 1920s as a way to span the country for commerce and travel but became a part of American culture.

"This bill would maintain the preservation of this historic highway which has been immortalized in movies, television and literature," said U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, R-Lubbock.

John Steinbeck referred to Route 66 as the Mother Road in his novel of Dust Bowl migrations west, "Grapes of Wrath." Musical performers as diverse as Bobby Troupe, Asleep at the Wheel and the Rolling Stones have sung the praises of getting your kicks on Route 66.

"I believe this road still serves a purpose," Wilson said. "By preserving the road for future generations, getting your kicks on Route 66 will be an experience our children and grandchildren can enjoy.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said he has a personal connection to life along Route 66 and hopes to get the bill signed by President Clinton soon.

"In the early part of this century, many lives and histories were paved along this historic road," he said. "Growing up in Albuquerque, I watched as the route served as a pipeline of interesting cultures and people through our budding city."


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