Illinois looks down the road and starts preparing for Route 66 centennial | St. Louis Public Radio

Illinois looks down the road and starts preparing for Route 66 centennial

Apr 18, 2017

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, is on a road trip in Illinois this week to highlight legislative efforts to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail.

Davis kicked off a two-day publicity tour at the Wildey Theater in Edwardsville Tuesday morning, where he talked about the historical and economic significance of the Mother Road. He’s also co-sponsoring legislation in the U.S. House to establish a national commission to celebrate the centennial of the storied roadway that opened America’s West to cross-country travel in 1926.

“As we move ahead and get to a celebration time in the year 2026, we want to make sure that the federal government is prepared and that we give Route 66 its honor and its due,’’ Davis said.

A stretch of old Route 66 pavement near Mount Olive, Illinois.
Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

In February, Davis, along with U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, and U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calififornia introduced the bipartisan Route 66 legislation in the U.S. House.

Illinois State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, also attended the news conference. She is sponsoring state legislation to establish an Illinois Route 66 Centennial Commission.

Route 66 is probably the most well-known pavement in America, stretching 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles and touching eight states along the way. It was a crucial route for commerce and migrating Americans during the Great Depression and a popular vacation travel route after World War II. But the two-lane ribbon of highway was gradually replaced by interstates, and it was decommissioned in 1985.

The iconic highway is still popular with tourists, including international travelers, who take nostalgic road trips along the route. It was designated as a National Scenic Byway in 2005.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis speaks at the Wildey Theater Tuesday morning. State Rep. Avery Bourne and Al Canal, the manager of the theater, also spoke.
Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Tourists traveling the route in Illinois spend millions of dollars in the state every year, said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Illinois Route 66 National Scenic Byway. He’s glad the state is planning ahead for the centennial.

“It is a very substantial economic driver for all the communities and all the states that it goes through,’’ Kelly said. “Lots of people spend a lot of time and money on the road, and that’s important. I like to think of Route 66 as really the world’s road, and so we want to get ready for the world to show up.”

Landmarks Illinois has included Route 66 on its 2017 list of the most endangered historic places in the state of Illinois.

After leaving Edwardsville, Davis planned to stop at other Route 66 historic sites and businesses in the 13th Congressional District.

He said he took Route 66 for granted when he was growing up in central Illinois.

“A lot of the roads we drove everyday were ‘the road.’ So, I traveled it, but not for historic purposes like the many who come from countries all over the world,’’ Davis said. “I used to visit some of the restaurants along Route 66 because they were the restaurants we ate at as kids — not because of their historical significance but because they served good food. But now, I get to relearn the history of the road and be able to play a part in recognizing that history.’’

Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @marydleonard