There are few, if any, roads as legendary as Route 66. It is without question the road most firmly entrenched in mid-Century Americana, just as railroads were in the 19th Century.
66 is also a story of our changing road landscape. Built in the 1920's, and not fully paved until much later, The Mother Road was in a constant state of change and upgrading, not dissimilar to roads today. This map does a great job of documenting the changing route over time, much better than I could.
Except that this change, and America's growing need to move faster throughout the United States, would make 66 expendable.
The road was decommissioned fully in the 1980's, although it had shrunk in size much earlier.
And yet, the story goes on. Much of the former road is still in service as different state and local roads. Those yearning for nostalgia and days gone flock to the pavement the road once called home. Signs have been erected showing where the route once ran, and in some cases, signs even show different alignments. Some states have even designated parts of their stretches of the road as State Route 66.
|More common in Southern Illinois, some Historic Route 66 markers show diverging routes, and the times that they were the mainline of 66. These would remain in my proposal, with only the mainline Historic US 66 markers being replaced. Image: featurepics.com|
I believe it's time Illinois did the same. Here is my proposal for a 297 mile long Illinois Route 66 between Chicago and St. Louis, and why I think it's a good idea.
My route, as proposed, would use I-55's successor as little as possible, while at the same time, maintaining the safest non-freeway route between Chicago and St. Louis. The route I picked as a singular state route does not tell the story of Route 66 in it's entirety, nor does it set out to do so. It does not go through the tiny downtown areas of the small towns who owe their very existence to the route, although it does make them more accessible and navigable, better I believe than a historical route marker would. I welcome your thoughts and criticisms on where exactly the new route should travel.
I am not alone in my conclusions, many people would love to see the entire Route 66 come back as a US Highway. I don't think that will happen, and perhaps it shouldn't, given how US Highway standards have improved over time. So now that I've established what I believe to be a workable route, the next step is to show that this isn't simply some pipe dream of mine, and there are real world examples of re-designation.
California signs a small section of their former US-66 as a State Route, as does San Bernadino County, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, so the idea to re-designate, in whole or in part, Route 66 as a state or county route is not without precedent. It should also be noted that Illinois hasn't used the number 66 as a state route since the 1930's.
|It's a long way down from a US Route to a County Route, but at least it's still signed. Image: Wikipedia|
And while some parts of Route 66 have been renumbered as other routes, and some might say there is no point to adding a number to an already numbered road, large portions of the former alignments of Route 66 are completely unmarked as such. That also ignores the fact that Illinois did just that in 2010 as part of a plan to connect Chicago and Kansas City with a singular route designation. Illinois Route 110 is a second number on the many roads that the expressway uses.
Illinois Route 66 would also add a little more prestige to the road currently, which has been used as a detour route when I-55 has been shut down as the result of an accident which is sadly an all too-common event. Having an actual state route as opposed to simply a historic designation would aid travelers on where to go in situations like this.
The only way that 66 comes back as a State Route is if the people demand it. As such, contact IDOT and your local State Representative. There are few costs that would be required, other than signs and perhaps a small marketing campaign advertising the existence of the route, but the potential for positive economic impact to the communities along the route cannot be overlooked.