Route 66 in the News

Route 66 Changes Course

2012-03-14 10:11:52

JOLIET, Ill. - The city of Joliet is giving up a little bit of Route 66 history to smooth the way to a digital sign it wants to put up on Route 59.

The city council last week voted to de-designate Route 59 as it runs through Joliet as part of the Route 66 National Scenic Byway. Instead, the city resolution approved by the council emphasizes Route 53 as it runs through downtown Joliet as the preferred Route 66 National Byway.

Huh?

Actually, both were part of the historic Route 66 at one point or another in history. City officials said they always had designated Route 53 for Scenic Byway status because it runs through downtown and right past the Joliet Area Historical Museum, which contains Route 66 displays.

But Route 59 was designated along the way by Will County.

That never was a problem until the city went to the Illinois Department of Transportation to finalize permits for an electronic sign that would be put up on city-owned property at Route 59 and Caton Farm Road.

“There was some issue as to whether a digital sign would be allowed at that site because of the scenic byway designation,” City Manager Thomas Thanas said. “We just wanted to clarify the situation.”

The de-designation will not change history, noted Route 66 historian John Weiss from Wilmington.

Route 66, including the stretch that ran along Route 59, he said, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and, “You can’t just go and say I don’t want it anymore.”

But you may be able to avoid scenic byway designation. An official with Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway said the group would abide by local decisions.

Weiss, who has written books about Route 66, said travelers are guided along the Route 53 route because of the museum, and it is, well, more scenic.

Route 66 originally went along Route 53, Weiss said. It was switched to Route 59 around the start of World War II because traffic had become so heavy at the Joliet Arsenal, south of Joliet on Illinois 53. Even then, Weiss said, Route 53 remained an alternative route designated Route 66A.

Ben Benson, the city’s communication director, said the only benefits from being a National Scenic Byway were the potential of getting some kind of grant money. But, he said, “We never had any money come in from it, so that’s one reason we didn’t have a problem de-designating it.”

Benson noted that the de-designation process goes through state and federal channels before it becomes official, so, “We may not even know officially for a while whether they accept it or not.”

~Bob Okon, HeraldNews.SunTimes.com

 

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