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Senator wants to abolish Route 66 Corridor Program December 2, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Preservation.
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Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) is pushing for the dismantling of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program in a publication about alleged government waste in the National Park System, “Parked! How Congress’ Misplaced Priorities are Trashing Our National Treasures” (PDF file).

In a section titled “Get Your Pork Fix on Route 66,” the report says:

The National Park Service administers the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, which provides $286,000 annually in grants “to support the preservation of the most significant and representative historic Route 66 buildings, structures, road segments, and cultural landscapes in the eight states through which the route passes.” Grants are provided for the “restoration of restaurants, motels, gas stations and neon signs, as well as for planning, research and educational initiatives.” Federal support for the Route 66 program was originally scheduled to terminate in 2009 and transition to a non-federal entity.

However, Congress extended the federal commitment an additional 10 years, protecting the low-priority program and its associated frivolous spending through 2019. In Oklahoma, Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program grants have been used to  renovate an abandoned gas station and used car lot and to restore the facade of a  theatre. Another grant helped “promote and support the touring dramatic production, Route 66: A Celebration of America’s Main Street.” The Northern Arizona  University’s Department of Theatre was awarded the funds for the production that was “an interpretive and educational venue that celebrates the experience of travel during the heyday of Route 66.”

With the help of the National Park Service Route 66 program, between the years 2001 and 2012, $217,084 in federal tax dollars was spent to restore 29 neon signs.

Later in the report, to “increase efficiencies and reduce or eliminate funding that is not central to the National Park Service’s mission,” Coburn advocated this action:

Eliminate the Route 66 National Historic Highway Program. Potential annual savings: $289,000

Coburn has long proven to be no friend of Route 66. He opposed the 2008 lands bill that reauthorized the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, despite a well-turned argument for it by Jim Ross and other Oklahomans. Coburn criticized the program in 2011 in a so-called “Oklahoma Waste Report” and ignored the beneficial things that happened after properties received its cost-share grants. On a semi-related note, Coburn also was caught fibbing about a landmark along the Lincoln Highway.

Fortunately for Route 66, Coburn’s chances to drop the program range from slim to none. Coburn, whose influence in the Senate never rose to more than middling, has faded to near-irrelevance because he’s too idiosyncratic for tea-party conservatives and too radical for mainstream Republicans.

He also took a lot of heat in his home state earlier this year after he threatened to withhold disaster aid for tornadoes that struck the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore and other towns in the region.

If you want to pass along your displeasure with Coburn (especially if you’re from Oklahoma), you can contact him here.

(Hat tip to Jamie Lewis Hedges and High Country News; Image of Sen. Tom Coburn by Talk Radio News Service via Flickr)


1. Steve Davis - December 2, 2013

Yes the Route 66 corridor project may seem frivolous, to some. However, it has saved some important landmarks that would otherwise, linger on as deteriorated structures.
The handsome TOWER Theater marquee, on NW 23rd, in OKC, once featured on in the background of the Jay Leno Tonight show set, is surely the one referred to. It was hit by a truck and nearly severed from the building, following elimination of diagonal parking along 23rd, which left the vintage neon and porcelain sign hanging out over a traffic lane…Good move there OKC Planning…
The owners of the building, which also own a rather large, prosperous, novelty shop here in OKC, could have paid for the repair out of pocket, surely. But it was a nice move that the sign was not only repaired, with help from the grant, but protected with a walkway that protrudes into the roadway.
If Coburn would eliminate some of his bowel obstruction on spending a little money on his Oklahoma constituents, he might enjoy improved health.

2. Jim Farber - December 2, 2013

Ironic to say the least, since more miles of Route 66 run through Oklahoma than any other state, or when you consider the amount of tourist dollars that are spent each year in the state by visitors driving the road. Hopefully saner heads will prevail and this misguided report will end up where it belongs— in the trash!

3. Sharon Hansen - December 2, 2013

I just finished writing a letter to Senator Coburn. I thought I would share it with you all.
Dear Senator Coburn,

I just read today that you are not in favor of continuing the Route 66 National Historic Highway Program. If I were unaware of what Route 66 does for us, I might not be in favor of it either. If one were totally ignorant it would seem like a waste of money and I don’t like to waste taxpayer money.

However, I own a bed and breakfast in Pontiac, IL and I’m a mile from Route 66. Half of my guests in the summer time are staying with us because they are traveling on Route 66. I have had guests from all over the world traveling Route 66.

International travelers generally spend 2-6 weeks on Route 66. They spend a LOT of money on Route 66 which greatly increases income for businesses on Route 66. In turn, those businesses pay income tax from their business earnings to the Federal government. I’m pretty sure the Federal government is making more than their investment back each year.

When we started our little B&B, no one helped us financially at all. We paid for everything ourselves out of our savings. Yet, we have to pay state and federal income taxes on our income. We may never get back all the money we’ve invested, but the government has nothing to lose on us. Besides there being more jobs due to tourism, these businesses are making friends all over the world.

If our international guests found Route 66 boring, I doubt any would ever recommend it to their friends and would never come back themselves, but they do! I generally find out when visiting with my guests how many times they have been to the states to drive Route 66. Half of them have been here before, within the last 5 years.

Our little town does a lot of things and spends much more than the federal government does on tourism and they keep doing it so apparently they think it’s worth what they spend every year.

If there were no Route 66, I’m guessing the Federal government would have millions less than they have now. It just doesn’t seem fair that the government would not want to help insure that this program continues since they would have so much to lose.

On one of your many vacations, you should take a trip on Route 66 to see for yourself what the fuss is all about. Rent yourself a motorcycle like many of our guests do or rent a car as the rest of our guests do. Keep track of how much you spend. Take 4 weeks. That’s probably a good average of the time people spend on Route 66. Then multiply what you spend by at least 20,000. That’s how many visitors we get in Pontiac every year and it increases every year. I haven’t seen the totals yet for 2013 but I have no doubt that it’s higher than 2012. The total you end up with is the total spent along Route 66 on average. Then multiply that amount by the lowest tax rate percentage and you will get a pretty decent estimate of how much money the Federal government makes off Route 66 every year. When you get the answer, let me know if you still think that the $286,000 the government spends on Route 66 each year is worth it or not. If the Federal government makes less than that, if you have stayed with us, I’ll refund half of your money. That’s a fair deal. Look us up on the internet. You can find us at http://3roses.us

When you are in Pontiac, ask to meet our mayor, his name is Bob. He personally welcomes as many of our visitors as possible. If he thinks you are a VIP, he will recommend you stay at Three Roses Bed & Breakfast, voted a guest favorite in Illinois for the last 3 years straight. We are the only B&B in Illinois to have received the award 4 times.

Some think our rates are high but when you consider that it’s at least 12 hours of work for each guest room rented, it’s less than minimum wage after expenses.

I’m betting you will have a wonderful time. Don’t tell people who you are. You want to see how you are treated as if you were no one special. I try to make my guests feel like royalty. We even have a red carpet!

Best wishes!

4. Guiy Moore - December 2, 2013

He is my senator, unfortunately, (I did not vote for him) He is a first class jerk. This typical of the thinking in this state. They always want to cut their nose off to spite their face.

5. KW - December 3, 2013

I’m an Okie, too (though living in Kansas); how can a person not understand cause and effect, or the concept of investment? I go back to Oklahoma for two things: to visit friends and family, and to drive old Route 66.
Woody sez:
“Mighty thin stew, though,
You could read a magazine right through it.
Always have figured
That if it’d been just a little bit thinner,
Some of these here politicians
Coulda seen through it.”

6. Sean - December 3, 2013

Mr. Coburn could (if he weren’t so ideologically blind) spend a little time in just his Oklahoma Route 66 towns talking to mayors and travel officials. To his horror, he’d find out how significant a role Route 66 plays in keeping those same cities and towns afloat- and that they’d probably appreciate even more being spent on the cause. The return for the dollar on those meager NPS grants is huge. The number of jobs associated with Route 66/heritage tourism is huge. Mr. Coburn needs to be reminded that ending the funding for the Corridor Preservation Program won’t just effect his state, but rather all states along the route- and not just in building preservation.
It is good that as a state Oklahoma (and the many good folks who live there) takes its Route 66 so seriously, and that the Alliance is headquartered in Tulsa. Perhaps they could all arrange to sit down and have a little chat about the reality of the road.

7. Bob - December 3, 2013

No wonder so many in the Senate pay no attention to the man. As is so often the case with him, he’s obviously spent no time at all researching a subject before he offers his opinion. Are the people who elected him listening? (I don’t mean to insult the good people of OK; I’m from IL, and everybody knows the quality of our politicians.)

8. Joe Schmo - December 4, 2013

Perhaps if more money went to grants, and not “administrative” or Kaisa travel costs, this program would be viewed better. Last year less than 30%, or $81,000 went to “grants”. So where does the other $205,000 go? That is quite a bit of change for a one person office.

Ron Warnick - December 4, 2013

Kaisa’s salary in 2011 was $73,000, which is hardly what I would call a princely sum (especially in a town such as Santa Fe). This number is public record, by the way.

The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program’s budget also varies from year to year. I have no idea whether Coburn’s numbers on the program’s costs are accurate. Given his spotty track record regarding accuracy, I would consider the source.

Joe Schmo - December 9, 2013

Still wondering why so much of the money goes to administrative costs…..If the salary of the Adminstrator is public record, surely the budget for the entire office is public record also??

9. Sharon Hansen - December 4, 2013

Hmmmm, now that is interesting. That could use some looking in to. I don’t think I could spend that much even if I tried.

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