Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is spearheading a $1 Billion pilot program named Reconnecting Communities to help connect cities and roads that were racially segregated and divided by road projects. NPR reports that cities and states can apply for grants that will be provided over a five-year period, which was included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. $195 million will be available in 2022, while $50 million will go toward planning activities for communities that may be early in the application process.
This is to compensate for the harm caused to low-income Black communities when the interstate highway system was created in the 1950s. Officials say preference will be given to “economically disadvantaged communities, especially those with projects focused on equity and environmental justice, have strong community engagement and stewardship, and a commitment to shared prosperity and equitable development.” Groups have pointed out that the announced funds may not be enough as it’s down from the initial $20 Billion the Biden administration hoped to get.
“Transportation can connect us to jobs, services and loved ones, but we’ve also seen countless cases around the country where a piece of infrastructure cuts off a neighborhood or a community because of how it was built,” said Buttigieg, who was announcing the pilot program later Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama. He described Reconnecting Communities as a broad department “principle” — not just a program — to address the issue with many efforts underway.
“This is a forward-looking vision,” Buttigieg said. “Our focus isn’t about assigning blame. It isn’t about getting caught up in guilt. It’s about fixing a problem. It’s about mending what has been broken, especially when the damage was done with taxpayer dollars.”
Some of the initiatives are as follows:
1. Rapid bus transit lines to link disadvantaged neighborhoods to jobs
2. Bike lanes and pedestrian walkways to allow for safe crossings over the roadways
3. Pepurposing former rail lines; and partial removal of highways
4. Launching a “Thriving Communities” initiative to provide technical support for potential projects that serve disadvantaged communities alongside the Housing and Urban Development Department.
As NPR notes, The Transportation Department has previously estimated it could help as many as 20 U.S. communities under the new program to remove portions of interstates and redesign streets by tapping into other transportation funds.