Route 66 in the News

Americans Still Getting Kicks on 66

2012-03-28 10:23:03

Many Americans can’t remember a time before the interstate-highway system streamlined cross-country travel into more-or-less straight, convenient grooves across the United States.

And those are many of the same people who might have traveled the famous, winding Route 66 from the Midwest, across the Great Plains and deserts of the Southwest, and ultimately to California. They’re also the same generation who dreamed about the open road to the lyrics of the song, "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66", first recorded by Nat King Cole:

It winds from Chicago to LA,
More than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route 66.

And now, a bit of research partially funded by the American Express Foundation sheds new light not only on the historic importance of what’s known as America’s Mother Road but also on the economic contributions that travel on – and fascination with – Route 66 still makes to the economies of the towns and cities along its route.

“This research really showed the potential that Route 66 offers to preserve our cultural heritage, and we look forward to seeing this research create new ways for historic places to drive economic prosperity,” Timothy J. McClimon, president of the foundation, said in a press release.

The song itself supplies the names of many of the places that still benefit from Americans’ nostalgic, vestigial curiosity about Route 66, which traversed parts of seven states:

Now you go through Saint Looey,
Joplin, Missouri,
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona.
Don’t forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

Route 66 served as a major path for westward migration during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and afterward. In addition to the song penned in 1946 by Bobby Troup and performed the same year by Cole, and covered in the 1960s by Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, Route 66 spawned a short-lived TV series in the 1960s.

The multi-party study involving researchers at Rutgers and the National Park Service found that $132 million a year is still spent in communities along Route 66 even though the former U.S. highway never made it to interstate status and actually was somewhat broken up and relegated to state-route domains decades ago.

More than 85 percent of Route 66 travelers visit historic places and museums, spending $38 million a year in communities on the route, the study found. Heritage preservation adds another $94 million in annual investments. The researchers even tallied up a “national impact” of a gain of 2,400 jobs, $90 million in income, $262 million in overall output, $127 million in gross domestic product and $37 million in tax revenues.

At the local level, the study found, restored Route 66-themed motels, restaurants and gift shops anchor the downtown in many small communities and bring new life and revenue to towns bypassed by the interstate system.

Of course, a lot of the money shelled out along Route 66 otherwise would be spent elsewhere, and contribute to other local economies. But that’s quibbling. The point is that Route 66 remains very much a vital American artery even though it’s not what it once was.

~Dale Buss, Forbes.com

 

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