Help prevent a travesty.

This post is long, but it’s important. Please read it — and please take some action when you’re done reading. This can’t wait.

Ron and I got word yesterday that Sen. Tom Coburn is trying to block reauthorization of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, which sunsets next year, and which helped fund such projects as the restoration of the Rock Cafe in Stroud, the Vickery Phillips 66 Station here in Tulsa, and many other beautiful and historic properties up and down Route 66 in Oklahoma and all along the Mother Road.

According to his Web site, Coburn is taking aim at:

Several tourism related measures, including a couple that have already become a favorite piggy bank to pay for congressional earmarks, such as the Save America’s Treasures program, the Preserve America program, and the Route 66 Corridor Preservation program. The Route 66 program is currently restoring aging gas stations, motels and restaurants. Unfortunately, tourism has declined with many Americans unable to afford the cost of gas and, as evidenced by this bill, Congress’ misplaced priorities threaten to drive up the cost of travel.

(Hat tip to Ron.)

I don’t know where Coburn is getting his information. Yes, some Americans are having trouble buying gas, and no, they’re not traveling as far. But in my extensive travels on Route 66, I have met literally hundreds of small business owners. I’ve spoken with many of them this year. They are all in a position to know what’s going on along the Mother Road — and what’s going on is that Route 66 is thriving, largely because of increases in foreign travelers (who are used to unholy gas prices); locals (when you can’t afford Disneyworld or the Grand Canyon, you explore your own backyard); and bargain hunters (fuel-efficient speed limits and great values on food, lodging and entertainment make Route 66 a penny-pincher’s dream).

While I appreciate Sen. Coburn’s well-documented commitment to fiscal responsibility, in this case, his concern is misplaced: This program is an all-too-rare example of the federal government getting it right.

First, the program has been incredibly successful in stimulating investment from the private sector, as it requires grant recipients to pony up a dollar-for-dollar match.

Second, the program helps stimulate the local economy. In 2003, grant-funded improvements at the Rock Cafe sparked an increase in business that allowed the owner to expand her hours — and her staff.

Third, although it is woefully underfunded and operates on a shoestring budget, this is the most effective government program I’ve ever seen. The people who run the program — Mike Taylor and Kaisa Barthuli — have a lot to do with that. I wish Sen. Coburn could have seen Mike standing on a ladder for several hours in 95-degree weather two summers ago, helping with a preservation project at a historic motel in Clinton while he was in town for a Route 66 festival and conference. Mike genuinely cares about the Mother Road, and he’s willing to get his hands dirty to ensure that its historic structures remain intact for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

It seems disingenuous to write this lean, highly efficient program off as unnecessary pork when it’s creating jobs, encouraging private investment, and generating sales tax revenue.

While it’s difficult to calculate the actual economic impact of Route 66 or the number of tourists who travel it each year, consider this: a Google search for “Route 66” turns up 11.2 million sites — more than the Statue of Liberty (5.41 million), the U.S. Capitol (1.47 million), the Sears Tower (1.16 million), and Old Faithful (992,000) combined.

Please take a moment to contact Sen. Coburn and help him understand the significance of Route 66 and the value of this program in preserving and promoting some of Oklahoma’s most precious historical and cultural treasures. His office can be reached by phone at (202) 224-5754, by e-mail here, or by snail-mail at 172 Russell Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510.

A few hundred phone calls, letters, and e-mail messages should get his attention. Let’s get going!

Thanks,
Emily

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