Route 66 is basically composed of two parts. The first part is the “roadway” itself,  the actual Route 66 Highway – in technical jargon, the R.O.W. The second part is the roadside attractions; the key word being “roadside.”

R.O.W. means right-of-way. The right-of-way is the “border to border” land area within which the actual Route 66 asphalt paving occurs. The pavement is almost never as wide as the right-of-way, the R.O.W. Official highway signs are always within the R.O.W., but are generally located to the side of the pavement along all sections of Route 66.

Every roadside attraction is located outside the R.O.W., meaning along side the right-of-way, but not actually in it. The Route 66 billboards one sees, like the telephone lines, are outside the R.O.W.

Most roadside attractions are privately owned, on privately owned property. They include things like neon signs, diners and restaurants, motels and hotels, campsites, trailer parks, movie theaters and drive-ins, curio shops, art galleries, trading posts, gift shops, gas stations, local museums and exhibits, shops and stores.

There are huge questions about who actually owns much of the R.O.W. of Route 66. All land under federal highways is under the jurisdiction of the state in which the highway is located. Each state receives federal highway funds with which the state maintains, or with other funds, helps maintain, the federal highway.

In “open country” things may be fairly simple. Within towns and cities the situation is often more complex.

“Jurisdiction” is not necessarily “ownership.” This distinction is most obvious in the case of “Indian Lands.” The lands of many Native people is held to be, and by treaty is, “sovereign.” However, in many cases, like in the case of Route 66, the roads were built before full treaty rights were established, or fully recognized, by the United States government.

This situation is further compounded by areas traditionally ruled by Spanish (later Mexican) law. Under Spanish law, generally speaking, roadways are “common lands,” meaning lands open to the people, not “owned” by any individual, corporation, political subdivision, or government. This perspective and reality is very different than the English “common law” tradition that often favors the power of governments and Kings. The treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, the “Mexico Cession,” establishes the basis for protection of traditional Spanish law rights in cession treaty areas.

Areas of Route 66 in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California are effected.