Route 66 sign in front of desert and blue sky
It won't be long before this road turns 100.
Riccardo Lombardo/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Route 66 Turns 100 in 2026. What’s in Store for the Iconic Highway?

Some states have renovations in the works

Driving on an interstate highway is something nearly every driver in the United States has done at some point in their lives, if not hundreds or thousands of times. That all hearkens back to 1926, when the Bureau of Public Roads initiated the federal highway system. And with that came one highway with a name that’s still synonymous with the mystique of the open road: Route 66.

In 1985, Route 66 exited the federal highway system. But long stretches of the road remain and are still home to distinctive architecture, roadside attractions and other reminders of a particular moment in history. During the last century, Route 66 has gone from an essential part of a nation’s transportation to a neglected roadway to a beloved part of its history — and with that century mark in mind, some changes are on the way.

As Sarah Kuta explained in an article at Smithsonian Magazine, several states — including Oklahoma and Illinois — are observing the looming centenary with renovations to the roadway. This includes $3.7 million in Illinois state funds under the auspices of the Route 66 Grant Program.

“These grants will stimulate local economies across Illinois and highlight our growing EV sector, honoring the history of Route 66 and looking to the future,” Illinois governor JB Pritzker said in a statement.

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As for what it’s like to travel Route 66 now, a few recent travelogues illustrate its charm. Writing at the Los Angeles Times in 2017, Brady MacDonald offered some advice to travelers pondering a drive down Route 66: “There will always be a hotel somewhere along the road. Meeting people makes the journey more enjoyable.” Last year at InsideHook, Joe Rosenthal chronicled its appeal, writing that “for adventurous souls with a penchant for history and a hunger for a unique experience, it’s well worth the time and tank of gas needed to get you there.”

And soon, the road travelers take to explore that history will be a bit smoother to drive.

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