AZ Route 66 proud to be an 'American'

KINGMAN - In a nation built on freedom of movement, no roadway has captured the American spirit quite like Route 66. For decades, the people of Kingman have been able to recognize the Mother Road's unique character, from its post-war glory days as the nation's main drag to its present incarnation as a living museum of the small-town Americana of yesteryear.

And now, more than 80 years since its establishment, Arizona's stretch of Route 66 has received the National Scenic Byways Program's highest designation, that of an "All-American Road." The designation was announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood earlier this month, adding Arizona's section of Route 66 to an elite cadre of only 37 roads in the country that are considered "destinations unto themselves," according to the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona.

"These routes continue to offer Americans exciting new opportunities to explore this nation, whether they travel close to home or across the country," LaHood said upon the announcement. "By enriching the National Scenic Byways Program with their own unique historical or aesthetic quality, these new additions help our national road system tell our country's history."

Authorized by Congress in 1991, the National Scenic Byways Program was formed as a means to help preserve, enhance and recognize those roads across the country with outstanding archeological, cultural, historic, scenic and recreational qualities. The program currently recognizes 151 roads as National Scenic Byways - Route 66 in Arizona joined the list in 2006 after exhaustive lobbying by the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona.

"It's quite a lengthy process," said the association's byway leader, Sharlene Fouser. "You have to first become a state historic road, then you have to write a corridor management plan."

The corridor management plan, or CMP, is a document that details the reasoning behind designating the byway, including the goals of each community along the route, as well as how to promote it and who will take responsibility. Fouser said the CMP for Arizona's Route 66 took more than five years to develop before being accepted. "The association's been putting a lot of work towards this for a lot of years," she said.

But it may all be worth it in the end, since receiving a National Scenic Byway designation enables communities to apply for a portion of the $40 million in improvement and renovation grants administered by the NSBP each year. In fact, since Route 66 was first designated a National Scenic Byway, the amount of grant money Arizona has received rose each year to more than $1 million in 2009, with nearly a quarter of that going toward Kingman's Powerhouse Visitor Center.

"That's the most we've ever received," Fouser said. "These designations are what open the door for these grants."

But now that Route 66 is an All-American Road, the highest possible NSBP designation, Fouser said that means communities like Kingman may be given greater priority for future grant money. In addition, All-American Roads receive more attention in the NSBP's promotional literature, meaning the designation could prompt a new influx of tourists into the area.

"When you're one of only 37 in the entire nation, that's pretty significant," said Tom Spear, executive vice president for the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. "When a potential tourist looks at a map of the byways and All-American Roads, the All-American roads definitely carry more significance. It definitely highlights you more in the materials that the Department of Transportation puts out."