A few days ago, the Associated Press published a story about the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program expiring in 2019 and its possible effect on Route 66 businesses and towns.
You can read the story straight from the source here.
The good news is the story was distributed to thousands of newspapers, television stations, radio stations and news websites across the world. Naturally, it gave Route 66 much attention.
The bad news is the story generated some panicked responses, including people who are half-convinced Route 66 will die without the program.
The AP story is correct and concise, which is typical for the news agency and its reporters. But here are some nuances that need to be known:
— Concern about the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program’s expiration has percolated for years. This is not a new development. This was known when the
legislation program’s extension became law in 2009; the end was baked into the bill from the start.
In fact, the program’s approaching sunset date of 2019 was a primary reason the Route 66: The Road Ahead group formed 3 1/2 years ago, so they could begin searching for alternatives.
— Chances for the program’s renewal are slim and none. The AP story said renewal by congressional lawmakers seemed possible, but the Route 66: The Road Ahead group saw this as unlikely even in 2013.
With the election of Donald Trump as president a few months ago and his vows to cut domestic spending, adding another 10 years to the Route 66 Corridor Preservation program seems even more dubious.
— The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was very good for small, historic businesses. The program occasionally bestowed grants for educational programs such as oral history or preserving a historic postcard collection.
But the majority of recipients were mom-and-pop business owners. Many of those cost-share awards went to replacing roofs, emergency stabilization of structures or other vital tasks. Some may argue with the program’s occasional grant to restore neon signs, but those beacons in the night made such businesses more visible to travelers and, thus, more financially viable.
— The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program never was fully funded. When first enacted by Congress in 1999, the program was slated for $10 million in matching grant funds over the life of its first 10 years. Because of congressional appropriations, the program never came close to having that much money available to dole out.
— Losing the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program won’t be catastrophic to the Mother Road. The Rutgers University economic impact study a few years ago conservatively estimated Route 66 generated more than $100 million in economic activity annually. The program’s total grant awards seldom topped $200,000 a year. It’s a drop in the proverbial bucket.
So while the program’s loss will be unfortunate and mourned, it won’t become a harbinger of a vast disappearance of Route 66 landmarks. But the program is revered enough that the Route 66: The Road Ahead group seems determined to set up some sort of substitute program.
In short, the end of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program isn’t the end of the world — or of Route 66, for that matter.
(Image of Route 66 in California by Meins Photography via Flickr)