Route 66 is an interstate highway that is very historic.
A lot of American folklore regarding the freedom made possible by the great open-highway system found its manifestation with Route 66. In fact, there are songs, movies, and other pop culture products created to celebrate everything that is so awesome, distinctive, and historical about Route 66.
To a large extent, Route 66 has a lot to do with San Bernardino or at least this part of the greater Los Angeles Basin area. As you can well imagine, this part of California accounts for over a trillion dollars’ worth of commercial activity.
Given the economic powerhouse that is this part of Southern California, it is no surprise that Route 66 plays such a major role. Interestingly enough, Route 66 was kind of an afterthought when it comes to a highway design in this part of the South-western United States.
Please understand that highway projects involving free access highways are a fairly recent phenomenon. Tollways on the other hand, have always been with us.
In fact, there are all sorts of nursery rhymes and kids stories involving people going to a bridge and having to pay toll to a troll. This might be some sort of psychological recasting of what people felt about having to pay to access a road.
It may have some sort of Freudian psychological implications. Whatever the case may be, people have never been happy with having to pay for access to infrastructure.
However, for whatever reason, that was the primary way governments, whether local, municipal, state, or county, could pay for such infrastructure. You have to understand that laying down a road has more to do than just design, construction, and specifications.
You also have to maintain it. This is one key point that consumers simply lose sight of. They think that since they’re already paying taxes, then, that should be enough for the government to just lay down the roads and have everybody enjoy access.
If only things were that simple because as you probably already know, if you’ve ever driven on cracked highways or cracked pavement, concrete does deteriorate over time. It doesn’t really matter how well designed the road is or what kind of geographic features that road is on.
Sooner or later, it will deteriorate. That’s just the way things are. Now, this situation begs the question: Who will pay for this?
Given the spread and the rise of government costs over the years, it’s becoming increasingly clear that more and more of government budgets are actually going to payroll. They’re not going to road maintenance or infrastructure.
This is why historically, roads were for all intents and purposes, toll roads. They’re built on the public dime, but they have to be paid by private consumers who wish to use them.
Things started to change in the United States. More and more states, particularly western states, have completely abandoned this model.
The idea was that if you wanted commerce and maximum flexibility and mobility for your population, you need to reduce toll roads. This is why there’s a big difference between California highways and eastern roads.
If you go to places like New Jersey, there’s always turnpiking. Guess what happens when you get on or off a turnpike? That’s right. You have to pay a toll.
Not so with the vast majority of California’s highways. They’re called freeways for a reason. Most of them are free.
Now, certain portions of freeways are being converted to toll roads but they’re still in the minority. What accounts for this change? Why the sudden change of model?
Is the East Coast really all that different from the West Coast as to account for this change in billing and responsibility for public infrastructure? Well, it all boils down to federal highway building programs in the 1950s.
You have to understand that after World War II, the United States was essentially the only functional, major superpower left outside of the Soviet Union. In the free world, the United States was the only power.
As a result, it experienced unprecedented prosperity. As gruelling as the Great Depression was, the 1950s was the precise opposite. There was simply so much money that suburbs exploded. People were buying cars left and right. People were able to buy homes for essentially a song.
That’s how awesome the economy was. Most importantly, employment was abundant. It doesn’t matter if you are a grade C student in high school. It doesn’t matter whether you have a high school diploma or not.
The economy was so robust, so vibrant, and so desperate for workers that anybody could get a job. In fact, it takes work to be poor in the United States at that point in time. Seriously. You had to have some serious addiction or disability to be poor.
If you wanted a job, you can get one. Most importantly, you get paid enough for you to afford a middle class lifestyle. This means a home, at least one car, and a vacation every year.
To say that the 1950s fulfilled the great promise of the American dream would be an understatement indeed. In fact, a lot of people are saying that that was the high point of American middle class progress because everything went downhill from there, but that’s another topic.
Back to Route 66, it is precisely during this historical period that the federal government embarked on a massive highway subsidy program. Either it would build the highways itself directly which usually took the form of interstate highways produced and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, or this would be done through state agencies.
Whatever arrangement was fashionable at that time, the western highway system was built out. It was so heavily subsidized by a rich federal government that it stated the trend towards free highways. The whole idea of freeways began during this part of American history.
Unfortunately, it was a historical anomaly because given the realities of infrastructure upkeep, freeways started costing a lot more money as they started deteriorating. This is why there’s a lot more Tollways now.
Also, this was when Route 66 was built. Route 66 was one highway of the many different highway networks bought and paid for by the U.S. federal government in the 1950s. It has fallen into disrepair and in parts, have been abolished so Route 66 is essentially a historic route.
Meaning it’s no longer a formal highway. However, given the amount of songs, movies, and other pop culture memorabilia memorializing it, it has become part of American folklore. This website celebrates everything that was great about Route 66.
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