A $1 billion pilot program was launched on Thursday by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg with the goal of helping reconnect cities and neighborhoods racially segregated or divided by road projects.
Buttigieg has pledged help to dozens of communities through his Reconnecting Communities program.
Cities and states can now apply for federal aid over five years to rectify any harm caused by roadways being built, primarily through lower-income, Black communities after the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
The funding can be used for numerous projects, including rapid bus transit lines to link disadvantaged neighborhoods, repurposing former rail lines, partial removal of highways, and more.
Buttigieg announced the program while speaking in Birmingham, Alabama, and described it as a board department “principle” that will look to fix existing issues moving forward.
“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,” Buttigieg said.
He continued saying that the Reconnecting Communities program is looking to address the wrongs of the past, not assign blame.
“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 program is not near the $20 billion that President Joe Biden had initially envisioned it to be, and advocacy groups have argued it is not nearly enough to have the significant impact it could.
There are more than 50 citizen-led efforts across the nation looking to redesign or dismantle highways that were built with wrong intentions.
Among the cities currently being looked at is Portland, Oregon; New Orleans, Louisiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; Houston, Texas; Tampa, Florida; and Syracuse, New York.
Still, not everyone is on board as Republicans like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called it the “woke-ification” of federal policy.
Nonetheless, $195 million in competitive grants will be awarded this year, with $50 million being devoted to communities to do planning studies.
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