Buttigieg Launches $1B Pilot for Roads 06/30 06:30
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday launched a $1 billion
first-of-its-kind pilot program aimed at helping reconnect cities and
neighborhoods racially segregated or divided by road projects, pledging
wide-ranging help to dozens of communities despite the program's limited
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday
launched a $1 billion first-of-its-kind pilot program aimed at helping
reconnect cities and neighborhoods racially segregated or divided by road
projects, pledging wide-ranging help to dozens of communities despite the
program's limited dollars.
Under the Reconnecting Communities program, cities and states can now apply
for the federal aid over five years to rectify harm caused by roadways that
were built primarily through lower-income, Black communities after the 1950s
creation of the interstate highway system.
New projects could include rapid bus transit lines to link disadvantaged
neighborhoods to jobs; caps built on top of highways featuring green spaces,
bike lanes and pedestrian walkways to allow for safe crossings over the
roadways; repurposing former rail lines; and partial removal of highways.
Still, the grants, being made available under President Joe Biden's
bipartisan infrastructure law, are considerably less than the $20 billion the
Democratic president originally envisioned. Advocacy groups say the money isn't
nearly enough to have a major impact on capital construction for more than 50
citizen-led efforts nationwide aimed at dismantling or redesigning highways --
from Portland, Oregon, to New Orleans; St. Paul, Minnesota; Houston; Tampa,
Florida; and Syracuse, New York. Meanwhile, some Republicans, including
possible 2024 presidential contender Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have derided
the effort as the "woke-ification" of federal policy, suggesting political
crosswinds ahead in an election season.
"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
"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."
The Transportation Department has aimed to help communities that feel
racially harmed by highway expansions, with the Federal Highway Administration
last year taking a rare step to pause a proposed $9 billion widening project in
Houston, partly over civil rights concerns. That move likely spurred action in
other places such as Austin, Texas, where environmental and racial justice
groups recently filed a lawsuit to force the Texas transportation agency to
better lay out the impacts of a proposed highway expansion there.
Buttigieg drew fire from some Republicans earlier this year when he said the
federal government had an obligation to address the harms of racist design in
highways. "There's trees they're putting in, they're saying that highways are
racially discriminatory. I don't know how a road can be that," DeSantis said in
February, dismissing it as "woke."
Under the program, $195 million in competitive grants is to be awarded this
year, of which $50 million will be devoted for communities to conduct planning
The department will also launch a "Thriving Communities" initiative to
provide technical support for potential projects that serve disadvantaged
communities alongside the Housing and Urban Development Department.
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. According to
the department, communities that win the Reconnecting Communities grants but
still need additional funds will be prioritized in their applications for other
pots of federal transportation money. Dozens more communities could derive
benefit from the planning grants.
"Prior to 2021, the idea that we would deal with highway infrastructure that
has divided communities was very much a fringe idea," said Ben Crowther,
coordinator for the Boston-based Freeway Fighters Network, which is supported
by the Congress for the New Urbanism. "The Biden administration has really
transformed that into mainstream thinking. We are thinking now this is
something that is possible -- that you can remove a highway and instead build
safe streets that are walkable, add housing and address other community needs
besides travel time."