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| Debbie Miller | Trip Reports

Route 66 Got Federal Recognition and Got Closed

Route 66 Got Federal Recognition...And Got Closed

by Bob Jaussaud

In 1914 the Automobile Club of Southern California erected signs along National Old Trails across the Mojave Desert. In 1927 this route evolved to become Route 66, or the “Mother Road.” Sue and I traveled Route 66 on our honeymoon in 1968. In 1970 we bought our place on the Colorado River and Route 66 carried us back and forth for innumerable river weekends. In those years Route 66 was still booming and traveling it was our wonderful introduction to the desert. We were so lucky to experience things like dining on Buster’s beans at Amboy or getting a burger at the Roadrunner or eating pickled pigs feet in the shade at Chabless or downing a frosty beer around the pool table at Cadiz Summit or, yes, even driving slowly through the speed trap set up near the Danby Court House. Unfortunately everything changed when Route 66 was bypassed in 1973. Even so, Route 66 continues to be a popular historic byway, a beautiful gateway to a gentler time. So why has it been closed? 

According to Robert Lovingood, San Bernardino County Supervisor,there are 127 bridges on old Route 66. Many of these bridges saw service from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s through the roaring 40s,50s, 60s, 70s… right up to the present. Most of the original bridges were of timber construction and many need repair or replacement. There were several bridges damaged by August 2014 flash flooding,but these were quickly repaired by the County of San Bernardino and the road reopened. Unfortunately, Route 66 was closed again after another flash flood in July of 2017. The quandary is that repair of the 2017 damage has not even begun yet. So what is the holdup? One would think that a National Trails Highway in a National Monument would be a priority.

Here’s the snafu. The Presidential Proclamation designating Mojave Trails National Monument also required that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prepare a management plan for the area within three years of its designation. The BLM has not done this. They are stalling because President Trump issued an Executive Order for the Interior Secretary to review most of the national monuments designated since1996 to determine if they should be reduced in size or eliminated. So, no management plan, no bridge repair.

Also, Route 66 is now a historic highway inside a National Monument. That means that any bridge repair or construction must satisfy the cultural and biological issues raised by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (CEQA). According to Andy Silva, San Bernardino Policy Analyst, “Getting through NEPA and CEQA, even for a project within the right-of-way, is difficult. And these bridges are historic, so you can’t just go in and throw in a concrete bridge. They have to be historically appropriate and still engineered correctly.” And… Who’s going to pay for all these new requirements? Certainly not the Federal Government. They are just making it difficult for San Bernardino to move ahead and repair the bridges.

It seems that in 2016, at California Senator Feinstein’s urging, the route was designated part of Mojave Trails National Monument by a Presidential Proclamation signed by President Barack Obama. Just a year later Route 66 was closed due to bridge washouts and remains closed today. But why can’t the bridges be repaired as they had been for over 100 years? Well, it’s evidently because Route 66 is now inside Mojave Trails National Monument. 

Alas, the sad and frustrating bottom line is that much of Route 66 is closed and will remain closed largely because it is within Mojave Trails National Monument. We wish it weren’t so.