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County will seek grant for Sidewalk Highway October 1, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, Preservation.
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Ottawa County, Oklahoma, will apply for a $300,000 “Rails to Trails” grant to shore up and ultimately preserve the Route 66 section of the historic Ribbon Road, aka Sidewalk Highway, between Miami and Afton, Oklahoma, reported the Miami News-Record.

The article does a good job explaining the complex issues about preserving the 1922 Sidewalk Highway, which is so called because local highway officials at the time had only enough money to build it 9 feet wide. It served as Route 66 until 1937.

Then, as now, the main problem facing the county is lack of money.

A few points gleaned from the article:

  • County Commissioner Russel Earls said recent heavy rains washed out two portions of the road, requiring quick but temporary repairs. He said road crews grade the washouts and add gravel to halt further deterioration.
  • He estimated the cost of preserving the road includes grinding up the old asphalt inside the curbs and overlaying the pavement. He said with more funding, lanes could be built on either side. He said the original road still is structurally sound.
  • Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director Amanda Davis said talks with the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and the state about preservation plans — including closing the road to keep it from decaying further — have yielded nothing. She said the Sidewalk Highway is in the “top three” for tourism in the area.
  • Earls noted although some rural landowners are against the Rails to Trails idea,real-estate agents are all for it because homeowners having a trail nearby is an attractive selling point.

If Ottawa County applies for a rails-to-trails grant, it probably will have to be through federal channels. The state is Oklahoma is notoriously stingy about funding even basic maintenance for roads and bridges, as a highway engineer acknowledged during the historic Bird Creek Bridge debacle a few years ago.

Engineers also said ODOT had become “reactive, not preventative” with highway and bridge maintenance from 1985 to 2005 because state funding for the agency remained “flat.” That neglect from a 20-year lack of funds greatly shortened the life of bridges, including Bird Creek. Currently, about 400 bridges in the district that includes much of northeastern Oklahoma need repair.

Here’s a video I shot a few years ago of the Afton section of the highway:

(Image of the Sidewalk Highway in September 2013 by Jimmy Emerson via Flickr)

Half-mile section of original Route 66 added to National Register September 21, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways, History.
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Original road - Route 66

A half-mile section of original Route 66 near Depew, Oklahoma, was added to the National Register of Historic Places, according to an email from the National Park Service.

The section of road runs east of Milfay Road for 0.46 miles. CLARIFICATION: I had the Google Street View map in the right place, but facing the wrong way. Also, Route 66 historian Jim Ross informs me that section of Route 66 has been open to travelers from Milfay Road for over a year because of a man from Tulsa who cleaned up the property and put an RV park there. The 2011 edition of Ross’ book, “Oklahoma Route 66,” indicated that stretch was inaccessible to travelers.

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This section of road served as Route 66 from 1926 to 1984, according to Ross’ book.

In fact, a lot of original Route 66 can be found between Bristow and Stroud in Oklahoma. Another section, called the Tank Farm Loop, is drivable and listed on the National Register. Here’s a video I produced about it a few years ago:

(Image of a stretch of original Route 66 between Stroud and Depew, Oklahoma, by Janice Duryea via Flickr)

Proposed Chicago park may include Route 66 museum September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, History, Museums.
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A small lot on the corner of Wabash Avenue and Adams Street in downtown Chicago that’s planned as a Chicago Symphony Orchestra Park may include a small Route 66 museum to recognize its location on Route 66, according to a story in DNAinfo.

The so-called pocket park would sit just west of the Chicago Symphony building. Vanessa Moss, the symphony’s vice president for orchestra and building operations, said the pocket park would be part of an overall plan to revitalize Wabash. According to the article:

Moss said Friday that the CSO could partner with Blue Plate catering to “enhance dining options there and create a really nice oasis for people in the city, and help bring more traffic to the CSO.”

She said the plaza could include a “Route 66 museum” that will explain the site’s historical significance. In 1926, Route 66 started down the street at Michigan Avenue and Adams Street.

Officials didn’t elaborate on what they had planned for the museum, but a rendering did not appear to show a new building on the site. [...]

If funds can be raised on schedule, the CSO hopes to start construction in the early spring and open the park by summer 2015, Moss said.

Based on the artist’s rendering, I suspect it’s not an enclosed “museum” per se, but a few well designed kiosks to tell the Route 66 story in that area.

Swa Frantzen at Historic66.com explains the Route 66 path in that area:

The start of Route 66 has moved a few times. Originally, Route 66 began on Jackson Blvd. at Michigan Ave. In 1933, the start (and end) was moved east onto the reclaimed land for the world fair to Jackson and Lake Shore Drive. In 1955, Jackson Blvd became one way west of Michigan Ave. and Adams St. became the westbound US-66. However the start of US-66 remained on Jackson at Lake Shore Drive.

So, even while currently Adams Street at Michigan Avenue is marked as the starting point, Route 66 never departed from there.

A short distance away in 1977, city workers took down the Route 66 signs at the highway’s eastern terminus at Grant Park at Jackson Drive. Twenty-five years later, Route 66 signs were reinstalled on that spot.

California Route 66’s declining condition will be discussed Thursday August 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways.
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The poor or deteriorating condition of roads or bridges along the Route 66 corridor in California will be part of an online discussion Thursday regarding the California Route 66 Management Plan from Barstow to Needles.

Lardner/Klein Landscape Architects, the contractor preparing the management plan, will host the webcast from 10:30 a.m. to noon Pacific time Thursday. It’s the third of four webcasts about the plan. The next webcast will be in October.

According to a news release:

The webcast agenda will include an update on the progress of the CMP, ideas for maintaining a safe and historic travel experience, and recommendations regarding how to preserve or maintain the roadway’s character-defining features. [...]

Anyone interested in participating in the web based meeting is requested to send an email to cart66cmp(at)lardnerklein(dot)com with the words “CART 66 WEB MEETING” in the subject line.
Participants are requested to RSVP prior to the webcast to ensure Lardner/Klein can plan for maximum effective public participation during the call.

Members of the public also may contact Lardner/Klein at 1-800-337-1370 to discuss transportation-related issues prior to or after the webcast.

Written comments may be submitted by mail to Lardner/Klein Landscape Architects, 815 North Royal Street, Suite 200, Attn: Route 66 CMP, Alexandria, VA, 22314. The public also may submit written comments by using the CHR66A website at http://www.route66ca.org.

In particular, it seems addressing Route 66’s road surface through the Mojave Desert is overdue. During a road trip earlier this month, I found the stretch west of Amboy to Ludlow as rough. And the stretch Newberry Springs to Ludlow was deemed all but undrivable in Jerry McClanahan’s “Route 66: EZ Guide for Travelers” book.

The problem is a borderline safety issue for motorists, especially on motorcycles. And it will have to be addressed before the route will be used with any regularity by cyclists — a growing segment in Route 66 tourism.

(Image of Route 66 in San Bernardino County, California, via Lynne Miller)

Kiosk, rest area built near Riverton roundabout August 26, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Highways.
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A rest area and informational kiosk recently were built at the roundabout near Riverton, Kansas, that intersects Route 66 and U.S. 400, reported KOAM-TV.

The Kansas Department of Transportation built them after receiving a $20,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration. They were designed by nearby Pittsburg State University students.

KDOT officials say the informational displays highlight some historic attractions for travelers along Route 66.

“It shows some of the things that they may want to spend a little more time exploring, which is good for Kansas because if they stay a little bit longer, they’ll spend a little more money,” said George Dockery, area engineer, KDOT.

Those who are unfamiliar with roundabouts on Route 66 had better get used to them. There now are at least two in Tulsa on the Mother Road and another in Carthage, Missouri. And because of their demonstrated ability to keep vehicles moving more efficiently, you’ll see more in the coming years in high-traffic areas.

UPDATE 9/6/2014: The Joplin Globe had some more details about it. The kiosk is on the west side of the roundabout — where old Route 66 through the countryside to Baxter Springs begins — and includes a parking area.

Some of the historical sites and museums listed include the Galena Historical and Mining Museum; the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum; Fort Blair Historic Site, and the Galena Murder Bordello.

Scenic places, such as Hell’s Half Acre and the Southeast Kansas Nature Center in Schermerhorn Park, also are listed. Cars on the Route in Galena, Angels on the Route and the Field of Dreams in Baxter Springs are a few of the attractions listed as cultural places.

If someone is passing through Kansas and isn’t sure of where the attractions are located, Larison said the kiosk will help them.


Traveling Route 66 exhibit planned for Europe August 18, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, Highways, History.
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Three men are planning an unprecedented traveling Route 66 exhibit that will be taken around Europe — which is a hotbed of enthusiasm for the Mother Road.

The men planning the exhibit are Jim Farber, who helped shepherd the current “Route 66: The Road and the Romance” exhibit at the Autry National Museum at Los Angeles; Stephen White, who has curated several international photo exhibitions; and Jonathan Spaulding, who recently oversaw the design and collection for the Brisco Museum in San Antonio.

Farber said in an email the exhibit is in its “very preliminary” stages of planning, but he remained confident it will happen. No timetable was given.

Here is the news release for the planned exhibit:

Every year thousands of Europeans, and visitors from nations around the globe, visit the United States in order to experience a journey along America’s most famous highway, Route 66 — the historic Mother Road, the Main Street of America. Yet there has never been a major international museum exhibition devoted to the rich cultural history of this iconic highway and the role it has played in inspiring some of the world’s greatest literature, painting, photography and popular culture, as well as the pioneering architecture of the gasoline station, the motor court and the neon sign. “Route 66: Song of the Open Road” is a proposal designed to bring that experience to a global audience for the first time in all its unique dimensions.

Among the expected contributors to an international touring exhibition are the famous artist, Ed Ruscha, Pixar, producers of the animated feature, “Cars,” Google, and the Route 66 Alliance, as well as a number of important collectors and institutions with holdings of Route 66 material. A checklist is in preparation. While much of the emphasis will be on the art inspired by the highway, there will also be a selection of artifacts that will create a balance between culture and aesthetics.

Design strategies may create sensory environments that bring the experience of the road to life. Paintings, photographs, music, film, literary manuscripts, clothing, and ephemera will mingle with large-scale elements such as neon signs, classic cars, and gas pumps, all important elements of the life of the road. A central concept of the exhibition is to combine the high and the low, the common and the rare, in a democratic journey through one of the world’s most important cultural touchstones.

Support is strong among potential lenders. Sponsors are actively being sought, as is a major European or international institution to host what should be one of the most iconic American exhibitions to tour overseas in recent years.

For additional information contact Stephen White at fotodazela(at)gmail(dot)com.

If the exhibit comes together and proves popular across the pond, it could prove to have a huge impact on Route 66 tourism by bringing a new batch of travelers on the road.

Route 66 expert worries about traffic congestion in Chicago suburbs August 7, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Highways, Vehicles.
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A prominent Route 66 expert wrote a letter to a village, expressing his concern that truck traffic will negatively impact tourism on the Mother Road in Will County, Illinois, reported Suburban Life Publications.

John Weiss, who won the prestigious Steinbeck Award for historic preservation with his late wife Lenore in 2002 and has written several books about Route 66 and other historic roads in the Chicagoland area, wrote the letter to the village of Elwood, Illinois, in support of efforts to transform Illinois Highway 53 (aka Route 66) to a more Route 66-friendly corridor.

But he warned efforts will be for naught if truck-traffic congestion from Elwood and Joliet aren’t addressed.

Here are quotes from Weiss from the letter and to the newspaper:

“Route 53, from Joliet to Wilmington, … deserves better treatment. This stretch of road serves as the gateway to Historic Route 66, where the metropolitan landscape gives way to idyllic and quaint communities. Unfortunately for visitors and tourists – many of whom are traveling from overseas and visiting the U.S. for the first time – their first impression of small-town America is appalling and disappointing. [...]

“Words spread quickly with social media. Of course, tourists are going to hit Chicago. World-class city. But from there, they have a choice: Either get on I-55 and bypass all this or come down into Joliet and through all this congestion. I, myself, I’d bypass it.”

Weiss lives in the area, and has a lot of credibility about Route 66. So I’m sure his letter got the attention of the village — and the media.

The problem was exacerbated by Elwood starting an overweight-truck permit program a few years ago. The village gained revenue from it, but truck traffic increased on Illinois 53 because of it. The CenterPoint Properties trucking intermodal development also added truck numbers on the route.

A CenterPoint spokesman said the best solution to remove trucks from Illinois 53 would be a new bridge from Interstate 80 and Houbolt Road.

Also, jurisdictions could simply ban big trucks from that road and create a dedicated truck route away from it instead.

In addition to the mentioned towns before, Will County includes Braidwood, Wilmington, Crest Hill and Romeoville on Route 66. But it seems most of the truck trouble is in Joliet and Elwood.

(Image of Illinois 53, aka Route 66, in Crest Hill, Illinois, by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr)

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