Mother Road will sport new highway signs

  • Ledger photo by Andrew W. Griffin A motorist passes by a historic Route 66 sign at an Oklahoma City boundary.

UNION CITY – Just north of this Canadian County town, in the vicinity of El Reno, Historic Route 66 – which celebrates its centennial in 2026 - will begin getting a bit of an upgrade, in the form of brand spankin’ new historic Route 66 signs.

And it was here where Southwest Ledger spoke with Terri Angier, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, who is keeping the public up-to-date on the improvements being made to signage along the approximately 400 miles of original Route 66 running through Oklahoma.

“We are very excited about things going on and will go on with Route 66,” Angier said.

ODOT is working along with the office of Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who is in charge of tourism, and the Route 66 Centennial Commission. With celebrations scheduled for 2026, there is just a little more than five years left to prepare and promote the celebrations.

Angier said ODOT was aware that the original Historic Route 66 designation signs – different from the required Route 66 directional signage for State Highway 66 – were older and in need of replacement due to fading and weathering in the elements or vandalism.

Installation, which will begin in late spring 2021, include 400 new signs with an updated design to both mark the route itself and at state highway junctions as motorists approach Route 66. Signs will be placed on existing signs and poles, thereby lowering the cost significantly. At this time, with costs being $50 per sign, a total of $20,000 is expected to be spent on the creation and the placement of the signs.

At present, the new design is being finalized and expected to mirror similar signage in other states along Route 66 including: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The idea for the signs is to include the historic white U.S. 66 shield with black lettering on a brown background. The words “Historic” and “Route” would be in white letters rather than black, and the white bars are removed at the top and bottom, ODOT documents explain. In addition, a historic font would pay homage to early versions.

The signs, Angier said, will be produced in-house in an ODOT facility once the new design is finalized in early 2021.

ODOT wants folks along Route 66 to understand that the signs will “only replaced along ODOT’s highway system” and this “does not impact markers placed by cities on streets.”

Only one Route 66 sign is known to exist between Oklahoma City city limits and Yukon.

Meanwhile, Route 66 preservation groups like the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, are excited that the state is working now to prepare for the centennial celebration.

Rhys Martin, with the Oklahoma Route 66 Association and Route 66 Alliance, lives in Tulsa and has been involved in preservation issues related to the “Mother Road” for approximately a decade.

Regarding the signage upgrades, Martin said “it’s a project that I was very happy ODOT was willing to do.”

Martin said when folks in Route 66 preservation groups in the states Route 66 passes through began discussing the 2026 celebratory events, signage was a big concern.

“ODOT was very eager to be a part of the progress” and planning, which first included the planned signage, Martin said.

Route 66, Martin said, “is a road now that carries so much with it. The Route 66 signs are as recognizable as a Coca-Cola sign, especially in Europe. And Angier did note that many Route 66 aficionados live in Europe and travel to the United States to travel the iconic route. In fact, in a recently published article in The New Yorker, writer Ian Frazier concluded that Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita in the early 1950s during frequent drives on Arizona from upstate New York, while traveling the country hunting butterflies.

To get from Ithaca, N.Y. to Portal, Arizona, where he noted he wrote part of Lolita, “he very likely would have driven part of the way on the all-time-greatest American touring road, Route 66.”

Expect enthusiasm for Route 66 to only increase incoming months and years leading up to 2026. It was announced earlier this month that following the approval of the Route 66 Centennial Commission Act by Congress, it now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

Once that happens, 15 Commissioners will be appointed by President Trump as part of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, the organization which will take a leadership role in Route 66’s centennial celebration.

As noted on the organization’s website, “A five-year series of birthday celebration initiatives begins in 2021, culminating in 2026. A major part of the initiatives involves developing a Visionary Fund to support Route 66 through preservation, economic development, promotion, and research and/or education projects. The Road Ahead’s goal is to position the historic highway, the communities along the road, and the people who live and work there for success during the next 100 years.”

Continuing, it notes, “Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985. Though no longer part of the U.S. highway system, Route 66 continues to be a popular tourist destination to both domestic and international travelers.”

As Rhys Martin noted, it was in 2009, after spending time in Europe, that he was reminded what an important road Route 66 was and is. But growing up in Tulsa, Martin said Route 66 was just 11th Street. Now he fully understands its significance.

“It will be 2026 before we know it, so I am glad Oklahoma is starting now in preparing for its 100th birthday,” Martin said.