Linking the state of Chicago and California, route 66 spread out as one of the magnificent attractions that not only boosted tourism but also changed the lives of numerous Americans. The road that crossed through a total of 8 states; measuring approximately 2400 miles, now lies idle as it ages gracefully with no hope of revitalization. Here comes the main question. Why was route 66 decommissioned?
In the middle of the year 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act. The act was to see some of the minor roads expanded while some joined with the interstate highways for easy navigation and traffic control. At that moment, a good part of route 66 had undergone wear and tear forcing states such as Illinois to decline some of its parts while upgrading other parts. Other states followed suit, hence rendering the road vulnerable to an official decommissioning on June 27, 1985.
A surge in the traffic
Since its inception in the year 1926, Route 66–also called William Roger Highway, served a crucial role of connecting the small towns of Eastern and Western America. At first, it met its primary purpose without any major barrier.
However, just after the end of World War 2, Americans underwent a drastic change in their daily lives. Their population started to increase due to peaceful coexistence among themselves.
Notably, states such as Illinois started to notice a surge in the number of people who traversed Route 66 en route to Chicago. As a result, it admonished its official to come up with a blueprint of a four-lane highway in the bid to upgrade parts of the mother road that touched on the state. From the blueprint, the new highway was to start at the Chicago border and end at St. Louis near the Mississippi River. By the end of 1949, the upgraded highway was ripe for use handy with bypasses for the members of the public to use.
The idea of upgrading gave rise to more effort. In the beginning to mid-1950s, the state of Missouri followed the white smoke. It also upgraded its fair share of the road to a four-lane highway, complete with bypasses to aid in traffic congestion and easy navigation in its major towns. As we speak, the four-lane highways in these two states exist as freeway highways.
The need for a straight highway
As the need for better roads increased, various engineers and contractors demanded more straight expressways. This move was given birth to with factors such as easy accessibility and minimization of time wastage in mind. The move resulted in the inception of I-40, the state-funded bypassed that was to see some parts of the US 66 permanently scrapped or converted into frontage roads.
However, a section of traders and civic leaders in states such as New Mexico adamantly opposed the move. They cited economic losses since part of the road that touched on popular towns were to be bypassed with new highways that crossed over rural sections. They even went ahead to lobby for contradictory legislation such as the New Mexico Legislature of 1963 that barred construction of highways that bypassed major cities in the land.
Two years later, intense pressure from Washington and fear of losing state funds rendered the legislation useless. These forced cities such as Tucumcari and San Jon; and later Santarosa, Gallup, Grants and Moriarty to give the direction of their bypasses in 1964 and 1970s respectively.
By the end of the 1960s, a good portion of US 66 had been bypassed with the new I-40 highway. In some states, the shift was to the rural side while in some, the new road touched emerging town centers and cities.
Lastly, the need to decommission US 66 was attributed to the rampant occurrence of grisly accidents. One major case to mention is a 40-mile strip from Texas Border in New Mexico to Tucumary.
During the upgradation of the old mother road, a good section of US 66 was bypassed except for this strip. Down the line, the two-lane highway becomes more grisly due to an increase in the number of travellers that passed through it.
In the year 1968 and 1969, the stretch caused several fatal accidents. It became popular for its nickname “slaughter lane” hence prompting civic leaders and media personalities to summon the state for the construction of a new bypass in the land. After a series of tag war between the state and the locals, a truce was reached. A new expressway of I-40 was built just a few miles out of San Jon.
Even with the decommissioning, route 66 still plays a huge role as a tourist attraction in the land. With frontage lanes still intact, Americans have fresh memories to recall about this mother highway whose history still find routes into mainstream media up to date.