A badly deteriorated section of Interstate 55 west frontage road between Farmersville and Raymond in Illinois — best known as a section of Route 66 that passes in front of the historic Our Lady of the Highways Shrine — will be closed for repairs for several weeks starting in late September, according a story in The Journal-News in Hillsboro.
The newspaper said residents collected more than 1,000 signatures in petitions that urged the Illinois Department of Transportation to fix the road. I have little doubt the Route 66 tourism angle proved crucial in persuading the agency.
The Facebook page for the shrine this spring posted a photo of a tire damaged by the road. It also posted this message on April 7:
Due to poor maintenance by IDOT, it is not recommended that tourists take Historic 66 from Farmersville through Litchfield which includes the location of the Shrine. Many tires have been destroyed as well as rims. The deterioration is a hardship for those of us who live in the area but we’d hate to see your trip ruined.
We ask that you complain to IDOT as well as sign a petition which is available at the bars and gas stations in Farmersville. We hope that a thorough and complete resurfacing will be done but until then the West Frontage Road/US 66 is dangerous.
The Journal-News reported that resurfacing of the road will begin in late September, closing it for about three weeks.
A few purists might mourn the covering up of old pavement in the area, but a road so decayed that Route 66 travelers can’t reliably use isn’t any good, either.
The Litchfield Deanery’s Catholic Youth Council raised money for the shrine in 1958, and the statue was dedicated Oct. 25, 1959, at the edge of Francis Marten’s farm. The marble statue of the Virgin Mary was imported from Italy; area youths built the wooden alcove, a brick base, a cobblestone walkway and lights around the statue. Total cost at the time was $900.
Francis Marten died in 2002, but family members continue to keep up the site.
(Hat tip to Peter Stork; image of Our Lady of the Highways Shrine by alan berning via Flickr)