The most important Route 66 document you may ever read

If you have a couple of hours, I urge you to download the “Route 66 Economic Impact Study” by Rutgers University.

The main report is more than 400 pages, but this 59-page summary will prove very useful and concise.

The reports recently were posted on the website of one of the study’s collaborators, the World Monuments Fund. The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program also helped in their creation.

The summary is well-written and contains photographs from the Mother Road. But I want you to peruse it mainly because it is the most comprehensive and detailed report about Route 66’s economic impact and the typical Route 66 traveler. The next time a politician or some other skeptic disbelieves Route 66’s value, send him or her this report.

Most of the data we’ve had about Route 66 was incomplete or anecdotal. This report changes that. We now have evidence to show Route 66’s true worth, and its vast potential.

The study lists David Listokin as the principal author, but it includes 15 other co-authors and contributors. On Route 66, it investigated data at 25 Main Street programs and 33 museums, and performed 25 in-depth studies at notable sites. The now-defunct Route 66 Pulse newspaper also distributed tens of thousands of questionnaires to Route 66 travelers, and more than 4,200 responded.

A few highlights from the summary:

— Total Route 66-related spending each year is about $127 million, including $38 million in spending by tourists. (The authors say the tourism spending numbers are very conservative.) The rest comes from spending in museums and Main Street programs in Route 66 towns.

— Using the economic multiplier effect, Route 66 generates 2,400 jobs, $262 million in overall output, and $37 million in tax revenues. The report goes on to say:

“Almost all sectors of the nation’s and eight state’s (sic) economy see their payrolls and production increased from Route 66 economic activity.”

— The eight Route 66 states — Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California — benefit from 70 to 80 percent of that economic impact.

— The report notes that spending on historic preservation creates more “bang for the buck” than many other sectors. It said:

“Compared to new construction and such stimulus favorites as investing in highways, historic  preservation — such as historic preservation of Route 66 properties — is a reasonably comparable, if not superior, economic pump primer.” [authors’ italics]

As an example, in Oklahoma, the per-dollar economic impact of commercial historic preservation surpasses that of the insurance, highway construction, home construction, data processing, and meat-packing sectors.

— In small towns, Route 66 often is the most significant, if not the only, “game in town” economically.

As for the traveler survey, a few highlights:

— Median age of the Route 66 traveler is 55.

— Most travelers are middle class, with a household income of about $62,000.

— About 97 percent of Route 66 travelers are white.

— Median time length devoted to a Route 66 trip is 11 days.

— The average Route 66 travel party spends $1,500 to $2,000.

— About 61 percent of Route 66 travelers are heading west, to California.

— Respondents to the survey hailed from all 50 U.S. states and 40 foreign countries.

— Just under 85 percent of the respondents were American. The study’s authors said the 15 percent figure of foreign travelers is low. Because the survey was printed only in English, that depressed the response rates of overseas travelers.

The authors advocated that Route 66 beef up its use of Main Street programs, National Scenic Byway grants, tax credits, and tax-increment financing to improve historic preservation and economic activity.

As I’ve said, you really need to read the whole summary. It will educate you and provide a much more complete picture of Route 66’s impact. And if you noticed anything else important in the report I failed to mention, please chime in with the comments section.

10 thoughts on “The most important Route 66 document you may ever read

    1. Thanks, Ron, this is a great document. We’re working on a Route 66 plan for Albuquerque and I was looking for some best practices (what cities and towns are doing it right). Found some!

  1. Thank you for Ron, for the post and the link. I am a 49 year old Canadian and it is my retirement dream to travel this much storied highway. My intention is to fly to California, buy a vehicle, and take the trek east to Chicago. I suspect we are talking about a $40,000 to $50,000 “trip of a lifetime”. I know many Canadians who take Route 66, in whole or in part, every year. I think that these numbers may have been missed in the study.

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