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Re-Comissioning Initiative
The Plan
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The Plan

A Comprehensive Plan for a New U.S. 66

Historic 66 The Route 66 Recommissioning Initiative offers a suggested Route 66 plan for a new U.S. Route 66 using historic U.S. Route 66 alignments.

As one of our truly great national treasures, the popularity of Route 66 continues to explode. By some estimates, 200,000 or more people per year are trying to drive on Route 66. Unfortunately, since its decommissioning in 1985, simply finding and staying on Route 66 can be a major challenge.

Route 66 has now been declared a Scenic Byway in six states but according to a Rutgers University study, finding and staying on Route 66 is still the number one complaint of Route 66 tourists. This is largely because signage is often inadequate and inconsistent and the Route still does not appear on many maps. In a few cases, the Route is even signed by markers of some completely different state highway number which only adds to the confusion.

Re-establishing the official "66" U.S. Route designation would address these issues. Most desirable of all is that a U.S. designation would provide a uniform and consistent, state-to-state marking plan for long-distance Route 66 travelers.

What follows here is a concise yet comprehensive plan that would accomplish these objectives:
  • Designate as U.S. Route #66 those existing facilities currently designated as "Historic" Route 66 or "Byway" 66 from Chicago, Illinois (East Jackson Drive & U.S. 41) to Santa Monica, California (Santa Monica Blvd. & Ocean Ave.).

  • For locations where two parallel or competing facilities are currently designated as "Historic" or "Byway" Route 66, the primary routing(s) (as determined by the respective state D.O.T.) would receive the U.S. Route designation whereas the secondary facilities may be designated as U.S. "Alternate" 66 or U.S. "Business" 66 at the respective state D.O.T.'s discretion. In order to determine a primary or secondary routing, the respective state D.O.T. should consider the duration that the facility carried the U.S. 66 Route designation in the past along with general conditions and the safety of the facility.

  • In locations where more than two competing, parallel facilities are presently designated as "Historic" or "Byway" 66, the primary routing (as determined by the State D.O.T.) would receive the U.S. Route designation and one secondary route may be designated as U.S. "Alternate" 66 or U.S. "Business" 66 while additional parallel facilities would receive no official U.S. Route designation but may continue to be marked with "Historic" or "Byway" 66 commemorative markers.

  • At locations where there are presently no existing facilities designated as "Byway" or "Historic" 66, the new "66" U.S. Route designation will be co-designated with a nearby Interstate highway or other state highway facility to be determined by the respective State D.O.T. In determining such a facility, the respective State D.O.T. should, when possible, favor a routing that once carried the U.S. Route 66 designation in the past.

  • It shall be noted that the status of the new U.S. Route 66 will be a designation ONLY and shall not initiate, demand or mandate the implementation of any significant alterations in infrastructure other than new signs. The new U.S. Route 66 designation must also respect and comply with all existing Byway criteria and guidelines.

Such a plan could be implemented at the state level with the individual state D.O.T.'s working together through the medium of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Alternatively, legislation passed by the United States Congress could also implement such a plan as AASHTO recognizes the right of Congress to recommend route changes from time to time.

In any event, Route 66 advocates and enthusiasts should write to their Reps and Senators and urge them to authorize and appropriate federal funds to pay for new signs. An average allocation of $1,500 per mile would provide Route 66 with splendid signage including MUTCD-type U.S. Route junction and directional markers, reassurance markers as well as exit markers from intersecting Interstate, U.S. and state highways in each of the eight states that Historic Route 66 passes through.

While this is intended to be a comprehensive plan that would both re-sign the old historic Route as well as return the icon to ALL road maps, it is not the only plan available to bring back Route 66. To view alternative methods of re-commissioning U.S. Route 66, please see alternative plans.

To see additional ideas and plans for sign improvements, please see more Route 66 signs needed.

Two questions that have occasionally come up over the years are, number one, if the U.S. 66 designation is restored, what alignment or alignments of old 66 would it or could it be put on? And number two, what would a new U.S designation "do" to the old road? Would it destroy the charm of Old Route 66 by turning it back into a "modern federal" highway"?

In addressing the first concern on alignments, this dilemma has now been largely addressed through the coming of the Scenic Byways. Since the Byway people have now already decided on the alignments, all a U.S. Route recommissioning would do would be to add signs and restore the Route to all maps.

On the second concern as to what a U.S. Highway designation would actually do to the old road, the real answer is (other than lots of new signs): Nothing. A new U.S. Route designation would probably be less intrusive than several other plans that have surfaced.

An important concept to grasp is that above and beyond all else, the Route 66 Recommissioning Initiative is strictly a re-signing proposal and NOT a "highway" plan.

Through the years we have noticed that there seems to be an element of confusion and misunderstanding over just exactly what U.S. Highways really are, who owns them and what they were/are meant to do. The following guidelines below are meant to clarify this:


Myth: The U.S. Numbered Highway System is a system of federal highways managed by a branch of the United States Federal government. (False).
Fact: The U.S. Numbered Highway System is managed entirely by the transportation departments in the individual states and coordinated through the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). AASHTO is an organization somewhat akin to a trade association composed of the various state transportation departments. AASHTO has many functions intended to further the transportation interests of its member state DOT's. Among those functions is the approval or disapproval of U.S. Route number changes and their recording in the U.S. Numbered Highway System route log. State participation in the U.S. Numbered Highway System is entirely voluntary and AASHTO's approval (or disapproval) decisions are not enforceable. However, the individual states have an established history of cooperating with one another other on the management of the System.

Myth: The U.S. Numbered Highway System is a system of federal highways with its own set of federal highway standards. (False).
Fact: The very name "U.S. Highway System" is somewhat of a misnomer. It is not really so much a "highway" system but rather a system of grid-like numbered routings. It was first conceived by AASHTO and the Bureau of Public Roads in the 1920's as an integral part of the "Better Roads Movement" of that time. Much of the intent was to provide for a comprehensive, unified marking guide to facilitate continuous state-to-state travel over longer distances. Since the System was put in place in 1926, the standards recommended by AASHTO have had more to do with numbering and route designation than with physical, geometric standards.

The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System on the other hand has a set of stringent geometric standards set forth by Congress and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) but the U.S. Numbered Highway System does not. However, highways in the U.S. Numbered Highway System are required to meet certain state standards. These state standards can vary drastically from state to state.

Myth: A new U.S. Route like U.S. 66 cannot be recommissioned without the approval of the Federal Highway Administration. (False).
Fact: The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System is managed jointly by the FHWA and AASHTO; the U.S. Numbered Highway System is entirely under the auspices of AASHTO alone. AASHTO acts based on formal submissions from the individual states. Renumbering of U.S. 66 would, however, require the concurrence of the transportation departments from all eight Route 66 states.

Myth: Many old, antique bridges and other quaint pieces of historic infrastructure along the Route 66 corridor would be doomed if the U.S. Route 66 designation were restored. (Inaccurate))
Fact: Not every single piece of historic roadway would be eligible or even appropriate for a new U.S. Highway designation. There are some alignments where it would be difficult to make them safe again for state highway traffic without extensive rebuilding. The solution here is to run the new U.S. Route designation over another alignment of Old Route 66 that was built at a later date. If no such alternative exists, then the designation can be put on the parallel Interstate to bypass the problem. But, it should be pointed out that such antique sections of roadway could still be graced with brown and white historic markers. There would be no conflict here since such historic markers are strictly commemorative in nature and do not constitute official state highway route markers.

Myth: Old U.S. 66 was decommissioned because its old roadway no longer met modern highway standards. (False)
Fact: As the Interstate Highway System was opened for traffic one relatively short section at a time, many of the states involved chose to re-locate the Route 66 U.S. Highway designation onto the Interstate to avoid the necessity of continuing to sign two essentially parallel routes. When the final section of Interstate Highway was open to traffic in 1984, what essentially remained (with a few exceptions) was a dual-signed superhighway.

For a number of reasons, partly social-economic and partly for the streamlining effect, the states involved wanted to move away from this dual-signed arrangement. Therefore, in 1985, the states involved requested the complete removal of the Route 66 U.S. Highway designation and AASHTO approved the change.

Some Considerations of AASHTO policy

It has been said by some that Old Route 66 would not meet AASHTO's qualifications for new U.S. Routes. From what we know of AASHTO policy, this is probably the case. However, it should not be concluded that AASHTO would refuse to consider recommissioning the U.S. 66 designation under any circumstance. An AASTHO engineer once told us that if the public demands are great enough, they would be glad to broach the issue.

Perhaps the thorniest issue is the policy guideline for new U.S. Highways which states that they need to be shown to be carrying state-to-state travel over "the shortest routes and the best roads". As far as state-to-state travel is concerned, Route 66 surely meets that qualification with its heavy tourist travel demand. But is it the best road over the shortest distance? Most state DOT's would say no - the Interstate now plays that role. However, due to popular demand and the public need, AASHTO should at least try to make a one-time exception for Route 66.

It should be noted that today a large portion of the U.S. Numbered Highway System, especially in the eastern states, does not meet the guideline of "the shortest routes and best roads". Long portions of U.S. Route 1 and U.S. 11 do not meet this guideline and yet no one is recommending that U.S. 1 or 11 be decommissioned - nor should they be in our opinion.

It is hoped that AASHTO would take this into consideration as a precedent for recommissioning U.S. 66. AASHTO might also consider that the tourist and recreational traffic on Route 66 is made up of people who fully expect to see U.S. Route markers. How can it possibly be explained to these people that Route 66 has no route markers because it "does not meet guidelines"? In our opinion, the growing volume of state-to-state tourist traffic on Route 66 is sufficient justification for recommissioning.

Another interesting AASHTO policy states clearly that "all far-seeing citizens will aid the State Highway Departments in their efforts to make this numbering system [U.S. Routes] of the greatest use to the traveling public". Perhaps some of those far-seeing citizens have now spoken in the results of the Rutgers University poll. Route 66 travelers making their journey expect to see a signed U.S. Route. Anything less is both a disappointment and a disservice to them.

The states involved have a responsibility to Route 66 travelers to provide the continuous, uniform marking plan that they need. However, AASTHO policy does indeed provide another pathway to recommissioning. Policy #16 specifically states that "Notwithstanding established policies, AASHTO recognizes that Congress on occasion will establish highway routes, specifying the location of the route as well as designating the route number(s) to be used. In those instances when Congress designates a route, the state(s) affected will follow the established procedures relative to route numbering".

So, perhaps the key lies in legislation. The ideal thing about a Congressional recommissioning is that a provision can be made in the legislation to authorize federal funding to help the state transportation departments pay for new signs.

In any event, there are now tens of thousands - perhaps hundreds of thousands - of people attempting to drive Route 66 every year and this might be only the beginning. Surely the need of those travelers justifies restoring the designation. Above and beyond this need is the fact that Route 66 has been a major force in America and is a truly unique American institution in its own right. Re-commissioning would provide Route 66 with an element of permanence, a little bit like grounding a monument base in concrete.

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