Officials from all three states applied for the number change because of the old number's negative connotation.
In the Bible, the Book of Revelation says 666 is the "number of the beast," usually interpreted as Satan or the Antichrist. The highway has often been called the Devil's Highway.
The highway runs 194 miles from Gallup north through southwestern Colorado and 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.
Missing signs in all three states have been a problem since the highway was built decades ago, but Colorado transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said more signs started disappearing after the news of the number change.
"We don't have a single 666 sign left," she said.
Someone with a chain saw managed to take about five of the signs that lined Utah's short stretch of the famous highway.
"I guess because we're changing the name they became a collector's item in some people's minds. And it is an odd number," said Nile Easton, a spokesman for Utah's transportation department.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see them on eBay," Easton added.
The Internet auction site lists more than 300 666 items, including T-shirts, music CDs, comics books and three signs that the seller advertises as "original, legally obtained road 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 listings state.
The seller did not immediately respond to an e-mail message left by The Associated Press.
New Mexico transportation officials have no idea who took the signs, but are curious about the eBay listings.
Mahesh said the state Office of Inspector General plans to contact eBay investigators.
"We have to investigate it," he said.
As for drivers scanning the desolate highway for familiar roadside rectangles, fresh U.S. 491 signs are in the works.
Colorado officials have already installed them, but New Mexico and Utah are waiting for a ribbon-cutting event July 30 in Shiprock, N.M.
"It's a pretty important event," Mahesh said.Posted by tstubbs at July 18, 2003 09:56 PM | Trackback