JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Missouri and Kansas supporters are optimistic that the iconic Route 66 is on the road to becoming part of a National Historic Trail.
U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Jim Inhofe announced this week that a bipartisan bill would include Route 66 in the National Trails System Act, which would allow the National Park Service to award federal grants for preservation, development and promotion along the route from Chicago to Los Angeles, the Joplin Globe reported. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in June.
Route 66 was an economic boon for small towns — including in Missouri and Kansas — before the interstate system was built.
The plan comes as cities and towns along the once-busy Route 66 have been working on revitalization projects to rehabilitate aging buildings and landmarks to attract tourists.
Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said in a statement that Route 66 allowed motorists to visit mom-and-pop diners, small businesses and scenic byways through eight states.
"Just as importantly, this bill would safeguard Route 66 as (a) cultural landmark, preserving its significance as the 'Main Street of America' for future generations of adventurers, migrants, hitchhikers, and tourists venturing westward," Udall said.
Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said having dedicated federal oversight "will hopefully bring a helpful level of notoriety. It's a very important piece of legislation."
The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership also was thrilled that the Senate took up the issue, said Bill Thomas, chairman of the board of directors of the group, which is a collaborative effort to bring together the states Route 66 passes through.
Thomas said he's optimistic Congress will pass the measure and it will be signed by the president by the end of the year.
Renee Charles, president of the Kansas Historic Route 66 Association, said she was "ecstatic" to hear the legislation has advanced to the Senate. Even though Kansas has the smallest stretch of Route 66, it is one of the main economic factors for towns such as Galena and Baxter Springs.
"I think it's been a large driver to the area since 2006, and it continues to be a driver," Charles said. "More domestic travel has come through now, both in the Four-State Area and beyond. I think it's building each year, and now if it becomes a national trail, then that's more advertisement. I think it will bring more people."
Route 66, which spans more than 2,400 miles, was born in 1926 after the Bureau of Public Roads launched the nation's first federal highway system, bringing together existing local and state roads from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles. Small towns opened shops, motels and gas stations to pump revenue into local economies just as the nation's car culture took off. It was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985.