JOLIET – Route 66, once the main roadway from Chicago to Los Angeles, is in danger of losing its place in the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.
Landmarks Illinois, a statewide nonprofit that has been in existence for 45 years and has 256 landmark saves to its credit, has launched an effort to make sure preservation of the route continues.
The organization believes that, in the current political climate, the program is not expected to be renewed. The program has provided technical assistance, cost-share grants and corridor planning since its creation in 1999, and is set to legislatively terminate in 2019.
Route 66 may have lost some of its flare with the creation of the Interstate system in 1956. Landmarks Illinois says there was economic loss in the towns the route passes through because travelers flocked to a faster form of cross-country automobile transportation.
Efforts to keep the route alive have persisted in other states, while Illinois Route 66 was designated a National Scenic Byway in 2005 to promote tourism and combat the deterioration and loss of the character of the route.
Recently, leaders and stakeholders along the route developed the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership as a collaborative organization to improve promotion, preservation, education and economic development along the entirety of Route 66, which passes through Joliet and neighboring communities.
The 100th anniversary of Route 66 is coming in nine years, but lawmakers such as Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, have filed legislation to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail. The proposal, H.R. 801, would provide a permanent program to preserve, promote and economically revitalize Route 66 if enacted, according to Landmarks Illinois.
Frank Butterfield, director of Landmarks Illinois’ Springfield office, said the state sees benefits from Route 66’s cultural heritage and economic development efforts.
“When visitors, both domestic and international, are surveyed they say the want to see neon signs, old motels and other components that make Route 66 unique,” Butterfield said. “It gets them to stay longer.”