Congress approves Route 66 centennial measure

Kimberly Barker The Joplin (Mo.) Globe

A bill celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Route 66 awaits the president's signature after it was passed by Congress, paving the way for future preservation efforts to commemorate the iconic roadway.

The bipartisan legislation was passed by the House of Representatives last week. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., initially introduced the centennial bill. 

Route 66 was designated in 1926 after the Bureau of Public Roads launched the nation's first federal highway system, joining local and state roads from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles. Though Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, the road continues to be a popular tourist destination. It passes through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The Route 66 Centennial Commission Act establishes a 15-member commission from each of the eight states along the highway to honor the route's 100th birthday in 2026. The Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, an advocacy group, lauded the actions by Congress. Chairman Bill Thomas said the commission will be responsible for planning activities to recognize Route 66 turning 100 years old.

"The commission will identify ways to honor Route 66, including the possible issuance of a postage stamp, commemorative coins, official proclamations and festivals across the nation," he said. "The Road Ahead is taking a leadership role in planning the commission's work, including developing a visionary fund to support Route 66 through preservation, economic development, promotion and research/education projects."

After the bill is signed into law, the Road Ahead Partnership will continue to work with the states as they pass legislation to set up state-based Route 66 Centennial commissions.

"Passage of the Route 66 Centennial bill is significant because it acknowledges and recognizes the important role Route 66 has played in America's history," said Thomas. "Over time, it has become a symbol of American freedom, individuality and adventure. Arguably, it is the most famous road in American history – and the significance of its 100th birthday warrants national attention."