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U.S. 666 is gone, but signs went first

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 20, 2003

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The main stretch of asphalt that cuts across northwestern New Mexico's desolate mesas is living out its final days as the Devil's Highway, but drivers wouldn't necessarily know it.

Not a single sign remains labeling it as the infamous U.S. 666.

"Since the reports that we were changing the name, we virtually had everything stolen. It was a feeding frenzy," said S.U. Mahesh, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

All that remains of the signs are sheared metal stubs.

The two-lane highway runs 194 miles from Gallup north through southwestern Colorado and then west to Monticello, Utah. Colorado and Utah transportation officials also reported a rash of sign thefts since the American Association of State Highway and Transportation changed the number from U.S. 666 to U.S. 491 in June.

Officials of all three states applied for the number change because of what some saw as the old number's satanic connotation.

In the Bible, the Book of Revelation says 666 is the "number of the beast," usually interpreted as Satan or the Antichrist.

Missing signs have been a problem since the highway was built decades ago, but Colorado transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said more of the black-and-white signs started disappearing after the news of the number change.

"We don't have a single 666 sign left," she said.

Colorado officials have already installed fresh U.S. 491 signs. New Mexico and Utah are waiting for a ribbon-cutting event July 30 in Shiprock, N.M.

One seller on the Internet auction site eBay purported to have a number of the U.S. 666 signs.

"This is not a cheap mock up or knock off. It is the real deal guaranteed without the hassles of chancing a federal offense for stealing government property," the listing said. The seller did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Mahesh said the state Office of Inspector General plans to contact eBay about the signs.

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