ATLANTA — Two new Congressional bills could help promote and commemorate the historical significance of Route 66.
The Mother Road could become a National Historic Trail under legislation drafted by U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, a Dunlap Republican, and 100th anniversary celebrations would get a kick-start via a bill from U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Taylorville Republican.
Making the road a National Historic Trail would bring "a very minimal federal funding" to maintain and promote Route 66, but it could make a big difference for tourism, LaHood told The Pantagraph.
“It's significant that the Congress of the United States thought it important enough that they passed a law to designate it that way,” he said of historic trails. “Cities and communities that are located along the route can use that designation as they wish in terms of promotion.”
Designating Route 66 as a National Historic Trail was one of the ideas raised at the series of Route 66 collaboration workshop meetings facilitated by the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership during the summer of 2015, said Logan County Economic Development Partnership Director Bill Thomas, who also is chairman of the partnership.
Davis' bill would create a 19-member commission to plan centennial events. Route 66 was established on Nov. 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year.
“We are hoping to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Route 66 in 2026 in grand fashion,” Thomas said. “We think this is going to be a significant event in this country. And with something like this, 10 years can be a short period of time.”
Davis agreed the time is right to start planning. He hopes to secure local representation on the commission, whose members would be selected by President Donald Trump.
"We want to make sure those in our districts who have been Route 66 enthusiasts and supporters are considered," said Davis.
Davis' bill also "directs the Department of Transportation, in consultation with governors of the eight states through which 66 passes, to develop a plan on the preservation needs of Route 66," according to a news release.
The preservation plan would be delivered within three years of the bill passing, said Ashley Phelps, communications director for Davis. The centennial commission would deliver a report on possible activities within five years.
Davis and LaHood also plan to visit several Route 66 sites in April. Both said they can't confirm exact sites, but Bloomington-Normal is very likely to be included in that tour.
"Illinois State Rep. Tim Butler, who has introduced (legislation that) establishes an Illinois commission to commemorate the 2026 centennial, will join the event," according to the release.
LaHood said he's proud both bills were created by bipartisan teams. Grace Napolitano, a California Democrat, is cosponsoring both; Route 66 starts in Chicago and ends in Santa Monica, Calif., and includes 301 miles in Illinois.