The Mother Road, historic Route 66, has been traveled by families fleeing famine and poverty, as depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, to those simply pursuing a few days at Disneyland. It has been celebrated in song by Bobby Troup, and in a 1960s television series featuring two guys in a Corvette.
And in 2026, fans of the road which “winds from Chicago to L.A.” will celebrate its centennial, supported by legislation passed by Congress and signed last week by President Trump.
“Today, I have signed into law S. 1014, the ‘Route 66 Centennial Commission Act’ (the ‘Act’),” read the presidential signing document. “The Act provides for a Commission made up of individuals appointed by the President, in certain cases based on the recommendations of members of Congress, with responsibility to conduct a study on ways to honor the centennial anniversary of Route 66 and to provide recommendations exclusively to the Congress.”
The legislation notes that Route 66 was the first “all-weather highway” connecting the Midwest to California, has played a major role in American history, became “a symbol of the heritage of travel and the legacy of seeking a better life,” and that the commission will recommend to Congress activities “fitting and proper” to celebrate the Mother Road’s centennial.
Who serves on this commission? All are presidential appointments, but three are based on recommendation of the Secretary of Transportation; eight others based on the recommendation of the governors of the states through which Route 66 travels; and the rest on the recommendations of the Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate.
The legislation requires all those appointed to have demonstrated dedication to historical education and have “substantial knowledge and appreciate of Route 66.”
Members serve until the end of 2026, and serve without pay, except for a per diem expenses. The commission will appoint a paid director and hire staff, but all funding for the commission’s work “shall be made solely from donated funds.”
Though members serve until the end of the centennial year, they only have two years to report their recommendations to Congress.
Funding for such a celebration already has begun as the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership plans a 5-year centennial celebration to begin in 2021, launching its “Visionary Fund” for “preservation, economic development, promotion and research and/or education projects.”
Possible sources of funding mentioned in the Congressional legislation include the issuing of commemorative coins, medals and postage stamps, as well as books and films. The legislation also calls for the commission to consider that staging of ceremonies and celebrations, presumably along the route.
Anyway, that’s what the elected see as a way of celebration. Here’s a recommendation from another source:
While the commission is appointed and meets and issues its report, the rest of us should make our own plans and drive as much of the historic route as possible between now and the official 2026 centennial celebrations.
As you travel the Mother Road, don’t be in a hurry. Take it slowly, as it comes. Also note that the road underwent realignments from time to time in various places, both in the early days and as the interstate system was being constructed and some of 66’s historic small towns were bypassed.
Don’t bypass them. Follow the original alignment as much as possible. Read some Steinbeck along the way and consider what it was like to travel in a Model T. Watch Pixar’s Cars and revisit Radiator Springs. Enjoy, embrace and absorb the small towns that have preserved their place in the heritage of the Mother Road, and hope the commission does as well.