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Friday, August 12, 2022

Infrastructure law tapped for neighborhoods hurt by transportation policy

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For many years, planners and politicians have spent cash to carve highways via deprived neighborhoods. On Thursday, the Transportation Division launched a grant program and restoration effort meant to undo a few of that harm.

Federal officers stated the $1 billion program created underneath final yr’s infrastructure regulation marks a shift in federal emphasis, with results that would exceed the modest monetary sources over 5 years. For Transportation Division officers overseeing a lot of the spending underneath the $1.2 trillion infrastructure regulation, the Reconnecting Communities program has change into a precedence to reveal how authorities can proper historic wrongs.

“Reconnecting Communities is just not a program, it’s a precept,” stated land-use professional and former enterprise professor Christopher Coes, who helped design the hassle – one which he stated is getting used throughout the division.

Whereas the aggressive grant program has $195 million obtainable in its first yr, Coes, assistant secretary for transportation coverage, stated different sources of federal funds may be tapped to attain the identical targets, together with about $350 billion in infrastructure funds managed by states.

The purpose of this system, in response to federal paperwork launched Thursday, “is to reconnect communities harmed by transportation infrastructure, via community-supported planning actions and capital development initiatives which are championed by these communities.”

Officers stated examples may embrace a pedestrian walkway underneath or over a freeway slicing via a neighborhood, or a brand new deck and park above a freeway – an thought being explored in Atlanta with federal assist.

Activists in different communities, together with New Orleans, have pushed to dismantle highways to make manner for group growth or environmental initiatives, concepts that would obtain seed funding underneath the pilot program. Creating quicker bus service may serve the identical targets, federal officers stated, by making it simpler for underserved residents to succeed in jobs, schooling or well being care.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday showcased a federally supported effort in Alabama, the Birmingham Xpress Bus Speedy Transit system, to announce particulars of this system.

Talking to reporters forward of the go to, Buttigieg stated that “in contrast to lots of different coverage errors or issues,” bodily infrastructure that undercut slightly than constructed up communities was typically designed to final many years.

“We’re right here to do one thing,” Buttigieg stated. “Our focus isn’t about assigning blame. It isn’t about getting caught up in guilt or remorse. It’s about fixing an issue. It’s about mending what has been damaged, particularly when the harm was performed via taxpayer {dollars}.”

On Thursday, Buttigieg joined Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., at a ceremony marking the restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel, the place Black vacationers discovered refuge amid segregation.

The Gaston motel, a part of the Birmingham Civil Rights Nationwide Monument created by President Barack Obama in 2017, was host to essential moments within the civil rights struggles of the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and different leaders based mostly themselves on the African American businessman’s motel whereas planning the anti-segregation protests that led to King’s arrest and “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Flanked by buses that shall be a part of a service set to launch this summer time that can hyperlink 25 neighborhoods, Buttigieg stated town was a becoming place to speak about historical past and remaking transportation.

“Birmingham is a spot that reminds us that there’s at all times been a relationship between the bodily capacity to maneuver about and fundamental questions of equity and social mobility,” he stated.

Interstate 65 was constructed via the guts of Birmingham and “displaced Black neighborhoods and created bodily boundaries and lifeless zones that also maintain individuals aside,” Buttigieg stated. He famous that federal funds for the brand new bus system had been awarded underneath Obama and Buttigieg’s Obama-era predecessor, Anthony Foxx, saying the present administration is supporting comparable initiatives in Arizona, Illinois, Nevada and elsewhere. The brand new devoted program will speed up that work, he stated.

Buttigieg stated Sewell was “the one voice from Alabama on Capitol Hill who was there with us and stated sure” to voting for the infrastructure invoice Biden signed final yr. She stated the regulation “is de facto about not solely connecting communities, but in addition using communities and offering financial growth.”

The Reconnecting Communities launch comes as different initiatives within the infrastructure regulation are also being rolled out.

Within the wake of lethal collisions between Amtrak trains and automobiles crossing in entrance of them in Missouri and California, the Biden administration introduced Thursday that $573 million is on the market as a part of a brand new $3 billion aggressive grant program created underneath the infrastructure regulation. It should pay for grade separations at railroad crossings, together with overpasses and underpasses.

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