- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

"Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six."
Revelation 13:18

The sign of the beast may become a sign of times past as lawmakers, government officials and Christian educators work to remove the configuration 666 from telephone prefixes and highway signs.
It's a small change, but one with a predicted big impact.
"It has a negative connotation," Rhonda Faught, New Mexico's Highway and Transportation Department Secretary, said about the infamous U.S. 666, which runs through the far western portion of the Land of Enchantment, not far from the Arizona border.
"We don't want it associated with our state."
That feeling is shared by officials at Kentucky Mountain Bible College, where callers must dial a 666 prefix to reach the small campus nestled in the Appalachians.
The configuration 666, which is only mentioned once in the Bible as a number symbolizing the Antichrist, is widely known in an evangelical Christian culture that monitors world events for any hint of the Second Coming. It is particularly disturbing for callers to dial, college officials say. The school is awaiting the change to another prefix, 693, which could go into effect within the week.
"The phone company has been very cooperative with us," said Thomas Lorimer, the college's executive vice president.
Mr. Lorimer said the school received more comments than complaints, but those comments had been on the rise recently and administrators felt it was time for the change.
The school, which holds a biblical worldview, says it embraces scriptural holiness in both heart and life. The college's graduates spearhead inner-city and international ministry missions.
One worker at the school said callers often ask why a Bible college would have a prefix number 666.
"No one wants to be part of the mark of the beast," she said.
Why is 666 used at all? It appears to be more of an oversight than the work of Satan. No one really knows why the college was assigned the prefix number.
In New Mexico, the reason is clearer.
In 1942, federal highway officials designated U.S. 666 because it was the sixth major highway to branch off Route 66, a road made popular by cross-country travelers and the popular 1960s TV show of the same name.
Meandering north-south for about 160 miles, U.S. 666 runs mostly through Navajo reservation land in northwestern New Mexico, dipping briefly into Colorado, then ending in Utah.
Its nickname, "Satan's Highway," is also due to it being one of the deadliest stretches of roadway in the state. According to New Mexico State Highway Department figures, 21 persons were killed and 144 injured in 2000 and 2001.
"It does go through some very beautiful, primitive land on the Navajo reservation," said Beverly Friedman, liaison officer for the New Mexico State Highway Department. "But it is dangerous. There are lots of blind spots on hills."
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, recently announced plans to improve the highway, including giving it a new name. He plans a $7.5 million project to improve and widen the bumpy, mostly two-lane roadway traveled by tourists and locals.
All this name changing will come at a cost, but it is one the state accepts. "The main cost with the name change for us would be changing the signage," Miss Friedman said.
S.U. Mahesh, spokesman for New Mexico's Highway and Transportation Department, estimates the costs for changing the signs at $25,000.
At least for New Mexico, the change could be profitable. Mr. Mahesh said the state's proximity to the Bible Belt, the swath of mostly Southern states stretching from the East Coast to Texas, makes the road unappealing to travelers.
"I definitely could see it discouraging tourists from the Bible Belt," he said. "That could mean a loss of tourism dollars."
Kentucky Mountain Bible College isn't anticipating any cost at all. Instead of gradually changing the phone number in publications as they are updated, though, the changes will have to be done all at once.
"We hoped we would have had a little more time," Mr. Lorimer said.
Neither the highway department nor the school "had a lot of negative controversy over the issue," but both groups felt it "was the right thing to do."
One New Mexico official, however, said the silence on the issue is an indicator of how important it is.
Mr. Mahesh said residents often get angry at the prospect of a road changing names because of the inconvenience to them, but this time it's different. "No one has said they don't want the change," he said.
The Navajo Nation, Mr. Mahesh said, has been trying to change the name for the last decade, but the idea didn't gain much momentum until the governor became involved.
The potential change for U.S. 666 has, however, created a separate, almost opposite issue: A slew of calls from eager sign collectors.
"If we end up changing, people want some of the signs for memorabilia," Miss Friedman said. "They want to know if they can purchase them."
The answer is no.
"We are not sure what we are going to do with them if the name changes, but they are not for sale. They probably will be destroyed," she said.
New name possibilities are still up in the air.
Once New Mexico files a name-change application with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the association will review it and decide, probably in May, whether to change the 666 designation.
Whatever they choose, it's a safe bet it won't be the number 13.
Worries about 666 are not new. Biblical researchers say the configuration reaches every corner of the nation, although some may not be as obvious as a phone number or road sign. One example is the use of the Universal Product Code, or UPC, bar codes, which are used to brand groceries and other items.
Some believe 666 is embedded in these codes. In Mary Stewart Relfe's 1982 book, "The New Money System 666," she outlines more than 50 pages of documentation she says prove the use of 666 in the UPC bar codes.
The configuration will always be a polarizing topic, but for those who have worked to remove it from their daily lives, the feeling is the same.
"I am just glad it's gone," Mr. Lorimer said.

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