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23 June 2017
Morning Sedition

Last Exit for Number of the Beast

Route 666 Sign

Sign for US Route 666

Speaking of highway naming conventions, I was reminded how the Book of Revelations led to the removal of this highway number for U.S. 666 in summer of 2003; it is now known by the catchy name of U.S. 491. (Bar codes will clearly be next. I think I'll write that up next.) The Federal Highway Commission — your tax dollars at work — has a page devoted to U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?. (I couldn't make this nonsense up if I tried.)

Running through the southeastern corner of Utah, US 666 is nothing more than a spur off US 66 running from Arizona to Monticello, Utah; like all spurs, it takes a number based on main highway. The big problem with the number was twofold: religious fanatics and theft. The fanatics, both Christian and Native American, mostly just wrote letters and telephoned; the thieves removed the signs from the highway where they had to be replaced. (It is possible the thefts were by those who thought the signs were evil, and not just cool; we'll likely never know.) Arizona's Department of Transportation routinely replaced missing signs, but the problem was getting out of hand. Since US 66 had been removed from the system in the late eighties, Arizona chose US 191 as the new name for the state's portion of the spur between I-10 and I-40.

Map of Route 666 in New Mexico

Map of US 666 in New Mexico

Three other states — New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah — left the US 666 number alone until Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, made it an issue on religious grounds. (He claimed that the highway signs were somehow preventing development in the area.) He had enough clout to get Colorado and Utah to join together with New Mexico in a joint resolution:

WHEREAS, people living near the road already live under the cloud of opprobrium created by having a road that many believe is cursed running near their homes and through their homeland; and

WHEREAS, the number "666" carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of revelations in the Bible; and

HEREAS, there are people who refuse to travel the road, not because of the issue of safety, but because of the fear that the devil controls events along United States route 666; and

WHEREAS, the economy in the area is greatly depressed when compared with many parts of the United States, and the infamy brought by the inopportune naming of the road will only make development in the area more difficult.

U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?

This convinced the right people in the federal government to change the name, and the final chapter on US 666 was written:

They chose 393, which was not in use in any of the three States. The problem was that the number implied that the highway was a branch of U.S. 93 (Port of Roosville, Montana, to Wickenburg, Arizona) even though neither U.S. 666 nor U.S. 191 intersected U.S. 93. Moreover, U.S. 93 did not have any branches; if AASHTO were to number branches of U.S. 93 in sequence, the first would be U.S. 193, not 393.

At the suggestion of AASHTO, the States agreed to renumber the route as a spur of U.S. 191, with "491" chosen to avoid duplicating State route numbers. After AASHTO's Standing Committee on Highways approved the change, it became official on Saturday, May 31.

As S. U. Mahesh of the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department told the Albuquerque Journal, which number ended up on the highway was not important. "As long as it's not 666 and it's nothing satanic, that's OK."

U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?

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