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Grant gives go-ahead to study imperiled Route 66 bridges, rank them for preservation

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Route 66 bridge in Winona, Arizona. Photo by Randy Heinitz.

Earlier this summer the town of Galena, Kansas, celebrated the restoration of the Front Street Bridge, a span that once carried Route 66 over the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad and into town. Yet just over the state line in Oklahoma, seven Route 66 bridges have been shortlisted for closing or demolishing. To get a handle on exactly how many Route 66 bridges are in similar danger and how many aren’t, the National Park Service last week issued a grant to a study designed to rank which Route 66 bridges need preservation.

“On Route 66, historic preservation of structures often takes a backseat to traditional preservation, rehabilitation and replacement options because it is more expensive and more challenging from the engineering viewpoint,” wrote Jeff Weidner, assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso. “The purpose of this project is to put both the engineering and historic preservation perspectives on a level playing field, and explore the challenges of maintaining the structural integrity and historic value of the bridges along Route 66.”

While the $32,334 in total grant money won’t go directly to preserving or restoring any particular bridge, the money will go toward prioritizing which bridges would most benefit from limited preservation funds as well as providing readily accessible information that local and state communities can use to get funding for bridge preservation.

Of the hundreds of bridges that Route 66 crossed between Chicago and Santa Monica ( lists 233, including some that crossed over the Mother Road), many were built to serve the patchwork of roads that became Route 66 and thus date to the Teens or Twenties, if not earlier. Various reconfigurations of Route 66 – not to mention interstate highway bypasses – left some bridges abandoned, forgotten, or underused, and in the 30-plus years since the decomissioning of Route 66 several significant Route 66 bridges have been closed, restricted to pedestrian access only, or demolished altogether. For that reason, original Route 66 bridges – some of which now have been added to the National Register of Historic Places – have become scarce, according to the Save Our Route 66 Bridges page on Facebook.

Restoration of the Galena bridge cost nearly $400,000, according to the Joplin Globe. However, as noted on Route 66 News, the most recent restoration project did not include repairs to the bridge’s support structure, which were completed in 2010.

Funding for the study came in part from the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. That program, administered by the NPS since 2009, distributes about $100,000 per year to local or state projects with available matching funds. The pending sunset of the program in 2019 has prompted at least two bills in Congress aimed at continuing such funding in one form or another.

Other projects that received funding through the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program this year include two aimed at restoring large neon signs, a documentary film focused on women on the Mother Road, an oral history project aimed at documenting the trucking industry along Route 66 in Missouri, and an online educational guide to the California stretch of the highway.

The Route 66 bridge study is set to begin this October and run through next September.

For more information about the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program and this year’s grants, visit