Buttigieg launches $1 billion pilot to build racial equality in roads

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg Thursday launched a $1 billion first-of-its-kind pilot program aimed at reconnecting cities and neighborhoods racially segregated or divided by road projectsand promised widespread aid to dozens of communities despite the program’s limited dollars.

Under the Reconnecting Communities program, cities and states can now apply for federal aid for a period of five years to repair damage caused by roads built primarily by lower-income black communities following the construction of the highway system in the United States. the fifties.

New projects could include high-speed bus lines to connect deprived neighborhoods with jobs; hoods built on top of highways with green spaces, bike paths and footpaths to allow safe crossings on the roads; repurposing of former railway lines; and partial removal of highways.

Nevertheless, the subsidies that are made available under President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, are significantly less than the $20 billion originally envisioned by the Democratic president. Advocacy groups say the money isn’t nearly enough to make a major impact on capital construction for more than 50 citizen-led efforts across the country aimed at dismantling or redesigning highways — from Portland, Oregonuntil New Orleans† St. Paul, Minnesota; Houston† Tampa, Florida; and Syracuse, New York. Meanwhile, some Republicans, including potential Florida Gov. Ron DeSantishave derided the effort as the “wake up” of federal policy, suggesting political crosswinds lie ahead in an election season.

“Transportation can connect us with jobs, services and loved ones, but we’ve also seen countless cases across the country where a piece of infrastructure cuts off a neighborhood or community because of the way it’s built,” said Buttigieg, who announced the pilot program. later Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama. He described Reconnecting Communities as a broad “principle” of the department — not just a program — to tackle the problem with a lot of effort underway.

“This is a forward-looking vision,” Buttigieg said. “Our focus is not on assigning blame. It’s not about getting caught up in guilt. It’s about solving a problem. It’s about repairing what’s broken, especially if the damage was done with taxpayers’ money.”

The Department of Transportation has set out to help communities that feel racially harmed by highway expansions, with the Federal Highway Administration taking a rare step last year to pause a proposed $9 billion Houston widening project, in part over civil rights concerns. . That move has likely sparked action in other places, such as Austin, Texas, where environmental and racial justice groups recently filed a lawsuit to compel the Texas transportation agency to better map the impact of a proposed highway expansion there.

Buttigieg caught fire from some Republicans earlier this year when he said the federal government had… an obligation to address the harm of racist design on highways† “There are trees they put in there, they say highways are racially discriminatory. I don’t know how a road that can be,” DeSantis said in February, dismissing it as “awake.”

Under the program, $195 million in competitive grants will be awarded this year, of which $50 million will be spent on communities to conduct planning studies.

The department will also launch a “Thriving Communities” initiative to provide technical support to potential projects serving underprivileged communities, in addition to the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The Department of Transportation previously estimated that under the new program, it could help as many as 20 U.S. communities to remove sections of highways and redesign streets by leveraging other transportation funds. According to the department, communities that win the Reconnecting Communities grants but still need additional funding will be given priority in their applications for other pots of federal transportation money. Dozens of other communities could benefit from the planning grants.

“Before 2021, the idea that we would deal with highway infrastructure that has divided communities was a very fringe idea,” said Ben Crowther, coordinator of the Boston-based Freeway Fighters Network, which is supported by the Congress for the New Urbanism. van Biden really transformed that into mainstream thinking, we now think that this is something that is possible – that you can remove a highway and instead build safe streets that are walkable, add housing and meet other needs of the community in addition to travel time.”

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