Time Running Out For Route 66 Funding

Friday, May 26th 2017, 7:28 pm
By: Grant Hermes

Time is running out for lawmakers to preserve historic sites along Route 66 as the sunset deadline for a preservation program nears.

Route 66 runs 2,500 miles through eight states from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA. Oklahoma claims 376 miles of the iconic American highway.  Littered with historic sites and landmarks, the highway is taken care of by the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program which gives thousands of dollars in grant money each year.

But the program is set to end 2019. And after President Donald Trump proposed a $360 million cut to the National Parks Service, the future of the program may be in jeopardy.

“It touches so many different people… and towns of all sizes and it's important to a lot of different people,” the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Deputy Preservation officer Melvena Heisch said.

The program has given out more than $5 million in grants since being created in 1999. Heisch estimated roughly $150,000 are appropriated each year for the program, allowing it to fund five to seven projects a year.

Only a few of those projects may be more iconic than Stroud, Oklahoma's Rock Café, of Disney Pixar "Cars" fame.

“We were built in 1939 and we're doing the same thing here that they've been doing since 1939,” Rock Café manager Beverly Thomas said. “Our grill has been here since 1939.”

Thomas has been working at the restaurant for 17 years. She said here kids grew up and worked there. One of her sons proposed to his wife who also worked there.

After a fire nearly destroyed the café in 2001, the program saved it and Thomas said it helped them double their annual business.

The hope now for historic sites like the Rock Café, is a new bill in Congress. Written by Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) and co sponsored by a dozen other members of Congress including Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the bill aims to make Route 66 by a National Historic Trail,  guaranteeing it money every year to keep the past alive.

“There's only so many franchise places in the world, and I'm not going to throw any names out there, but there's teeny tiny amounts of moms and pops left and it's important to get this grant money,” Thomas said.