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Route 66 backers protest repaving

By Ann DeFrange
Staff Writer

Such a fuss over an old piece of concrete. But the pavement is the original icing on the Mother Road, and lovers of Route 66 got there too late to save it. 

In scenic surroundings, the highway coils around the sandy dips and depressions like a snake, tilts like a saucer, rises and falls as fast and as steep as a roller coaster up and down Bridgeport Hill and across and back Canyon View Creek. 

Tuesday afternoon, a group of Route 66 aficionados stood alongside the Canadian County road with signs and highway logos and protested the activity that is destroying the historic roadbed. 

It was hardly a hostile protest. The construction supervisor found them a place to park and suggested a place to stand, then stepped out himself to slow the zooming traffic. 

The demonstrators held signs in support of the road, including some written in Burma- Shave style. Truckers pulled on their horns for long tributes. Some veteran characters of the highway, including Lucille Hamons, the 80-something gas station entrepreneur from Hydro; Ken Turmel, Midwest City artist; and Jim Ross, Oklahoma City author of several books about the road, joined the group. A Los Angeles film crew shot the scene for a documentary. It was a playful day with a serious theme. 

Kathy Anderson, a Route 66 Association state officer, said, "We know it's a lost cause, but we still have to make a statement. We don't want it to happen anywhere else in Oklahoma or any other Route 66 state." 

The state Transportation Department has commissioned new highway construction along the U.S. 281 spur, creating a shortcut between Interstate 40 and Geary. It involves tearing out the roadbed laid for old Route 66 and repaving it. 

For a long stretch between El Reno and Weatherford, it is the original Portland Cement laid in 1932 when Route 66 was first paved in Oklahoma. 

Anderson argued, "It's a valued part of Oklahoma history. It's a valued part of our national transportation history." 

Many of the great events of American history took place on Route 66, she said, citing the Depression and the Dust Bowl exodus toward California, World War II military shipments, postwar travel and family vacation traditions. 

"It's the same concrete. When you are driving the old road, you are literally driving through time." 

The popularity of the road has been its downfall. The tractor trailers zipping down it already are saving about 11 miles by getting off the interstate for a while. 

The tourists, on the other hand, come from all over the globe to gawk and dawdle. 

Even those who love the road must admit the narrow lanes without shoulders are too crowded for safety. The road beloved for its curves and dips will be flattened and straightened. 

They just didn't get there in time, Anderson said. The transportation department held meetings when the project was proposed a few years ago, but the association didn't hear about them. 

Jim Ross said Oklahoma has more miles of pristine, unaltered, uninterrupted Route 66 than any other state, and this 2.4-mile break will interrupt a 14.4-mile stretch of original Portland Cement. 

From now on, Ross said, "It is critical that we not destroy any more of the original highway." 

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