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How Long is Route 66?

Route 66 length is 2,238 miles

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How long is Route 66 in miles? US Highway 66 has had many different alignments since it was certified in 1926, and therefore it has had different lengths.

Its original length in 1926 was 2,448 miles, and by 1960 it had shortened to 2,238 miles. (3.939 and 3.601 km respectively)

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The World and Route 66, length comparison

It is hard to grasp how far 2,400 miles actually is. To visualize this distance -more or less the length of Route 66, we took some well known landmarks, measured the distance between them and displayed them on the map below:

The following map shows where Route 66 is, marking its alignment, including the "Santa Fe Loop" through Santa Fe in New Mexico.

Map comparing the length of Route 66 and the distance between some Global Cities

map comparing Route 66 length with distances between global cities
The distances between those cities is more or less equivalent to the length of Route 66

Table of distances - including Route 66's length:

2,396 miles. San Francisco to Honolulu (US)
2,360 miles. London (UK) to St. Johns (Canada)
2,299 miles. Salvador (Brazil) to Monrovia (Liberia)
2,275 miles. Oslo (Norway) to Cairo (Egypt)
2,272 miles. Darwin (Australia) to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
2,210 miles. New York (US) to Panama City (Panama)

2,238 miles. Route 66 length in 1960
2,448 miles. Route 66 length in 1926

That really puts it in perspective, doesn't it? Route 66 was originally longer than the transatlantic distance between London and Terranova! or across the Pacific Ocean all the way from Frisco to the beaches of Hawaii!

Route 66 was long, but not the longest highway in America

Despite its length, Route 66 wasn't the longest U.S. Highway, that distinction befell US 20 which is 3,365 miles long, linking Boston, Massachusetts with Newport, Oregon.

Route 66 lives on

Route 66 may not be the longest US highway, but it is the most famous one. A symbol of freedom, American way of life and joyful road trip vacations.

Route 66 Length: why did it change over the years

The first US66 alignment was longer

Route 66 was created in 1926 by incorporating pre-existing roads. In the eastern states, these roads were mostly part of the Ozark Trail system.

The Ozark Trail had been formed as a private organization in 1915 to improve the county and state highways, until then virtually non-existent.

The Trail was a collection of dirt or gravel surfaced roads which followed the section line roads.

Section Line Roads

Surveyors mapping towns and counties used grids consisting of one-square-mile sections.

Roads called "Section Line Roads" followed these lines and were used by farmers to reach their land.

The Ozark Trail therefore had a 90° -right angle- turn every mile.

This made for a longer road (driving two sides of a square instead of its diagonal is 42% longer), slower driving speeds (due to the sharp turns) and more risk of accidents -at those corners.

However building new roads was costly (earthworks involve grading, cut-and-fill, drainage ditches, etc.) so when the states began maintaining and upgrading highways in the early 1920s, they simply improved these zig-zagging section line roads.

An example is shown in the map below, which depicts Route 66 between Miami and Narcissa in Oklahoma. The original US 66 1926 alignment followed Oklahoma State Highway 7, which in turn had followed the Ozark Trail (shown in orange). OK Hwy. 7 had been paved between 1918 and 1921.

Route 66 distance is shortened

The road was too narrow and its sharp turns made it unsafe. It was too long -lenght means more cost when repaving a highway. So highway engineers improved it:

Work on a new highway alignment began in 1935 it would link Afton and Miami.It had gentler curves (the Ribbon-Road has six 90° curves) and wider shoulders. It was opened in 1937 and is still used as U.S. 60 - 59, it is shown below in pale blue.

Map showing Route 66 alignment as the Ribbon Road section

Map of US66 Ribbon Road
Map showing Route 66 "Ribbon Road" (orange) and later straighter alignment (pale blue) in Miami OK.
Click on Map to Enlarge

Route 66 mileage is reduced

Similar "straighthening out" actions took place across the whole of Route 66; below we mention some of them:

Also unsafe curves were eliminated (Towanda's Dead Man Curve in Illinois).

Grade crossings or "S" shaped approaches to underpasses were removed (Bushland's deadly underpass, TX).

In the 1940s "Beltlines" bypassed many towns, routing the traffic around congested cities (Lincoln, Il and St. Louis Mo just to mention two).

How long is Route 66 in each state it crosses?

The Route 66 Economic Impact Study, Vol 1. by (2011), gives the following figures citing Bischoff, Matt (2005). Life in the Past Lane: The Route 66 Experience:

2,448 mi. Original length and 2,238 miles the 1960 length. Just before its decertification began in California.

It also provides the following Route 66 length in each state:

  • 289 mi. Illinois
  • 313 mi. Missouri
  •  13 mi. Kansas
  • 376 mi. Oklahoma
  • 189 mi. Texas
  • 392 mi. New Mexico
  • 388 mi. Arizona
  • 318 mi. California
  • 2,278 miles Total length

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Banner image: Hackberry General Store, Hackberry, Arizona by Perla Eichenblat.

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