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The Rise and Fall of Route 66 22 juillet, 2007
U.S. Route 66, though no longer an official U.S. highway, remains a coveted symbol of America’s history and culture. One of the first highways in the United States Numbered Highways system, Route 66 opened to traffic in the 1920s, establishing an unprecedented direct route along an over 2,400 mile stretch between Chicago Illinois and Los Angeles California. Though the highway was decommissioned in 1985, its spirit lives on through historic designations as well as numerous pop culture references in books, songs, television shows and movies. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck coined the phrase « The Mother Road » in reference to Route 66, a nickname for the highway that remains widely recognized today.
Route 66 played a valuable role in the development and growth of businesses and communities throughout the eight states along its course. Passing through many small towns, the route spurred the establishment of numerous family owned businesses such as restaurants and gas stations aimed at capitalizing on the increasing number of travelers along the highway. Such events as the Dust Bowl and World War II prompted the westerly migration of many Americans, increasing traffic on Route 66 and further contributing to its popularity. The route also saw increased traffic in later decades due to vacationers en route to Los Angeles as well as its accessibility to such attractions as the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert located near the highway. Throughout the years, many businesses relied solely on patrons traveling along Route 66 for their sustainability, including Missouri’s Red’s Giant Hamburg, the first ever drive through restaurant.
As the techniques used in highway construction progressed, Route 66 underwent many major changes and realignments throughout its existence. Sections of the route were upgraded, with parts being converted to four lane highways. President Eisenhower’s extensive 1956 plan for building a massive network of interstates throughout the country marked a major contribution to the decline of Route 66. Despite business owner’s concerns and some organizations’ efforts to preserve the highway, portions Route 66 gradually began to be replaced by improved interstate routes in several states. In 1985, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials formally decertified Route 66 as part of the U.S. Highway System.
Portions of what remains of Route 66 have been converted to other state and local roads and loops, while other sections were simply abandoned. Several states have retained the highway’s original name in some form, such as designating parts of the former Route 66 as state highways or historic routes incorporating the number 66. Though the original Route 66 is no longer published on maps and can be difficult to navigate, much of its path can still be traveled by nostalgic adventure seekers.