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Buttigieg launches $1 billion pilot to bring racial justice to streets

WASHINGTON – Minister of transport Pete Buttigieg on Thursday launched a unique $1 billion pilot program aimed at reconnecting cities and neighborhoods racially segregated or segregated by street projectspledges widespread aid to dozens of communities despite the program’s limited dollars.

Under the Reconnecting Communities program, cities and states can now apply for five-year federal grants to repair damage caused by roads built primarily by low-income, black communities after the interstate highway system was created in the 1950s became.

New projects could include fast bus lines to connect deprived neighborhoods with jobs; Caps built on highways with green spaces, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways to allow safe crossings of the streets; conversion of former railway lines; and partial removal of highways.

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Nevertheless, the grants are provided under President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, is significantly less than the $20 billion that the Democratic president originally envisaged. Advocacy groups say the money is far from enough to have a significant impact in raising capital for more than 50 citizen-led efforts across the country aimed at dismantling or redesigning highways Portland, Oregonto New Orleans; St Paul, Minnesota; Houston; Tampa, Florida; and Syracuse, New York. Meanwhile, some Republicans, including potential 2024 presidential nominee Florida Gov. Ron DeSantishave derided the effort as a “wake-up” to federal politics, noting political headwinds lie ahead in an election season.

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“Transportation can connect us to jobs, services and loved ones, but we’ve also seen countless instances across the country where some piece of infrastructure has cut off a neighborhood or community because of how it was built,” said Buttigieg, who announced that pilot program later Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama. He described Reconnecting Communities as a broad departmental “principle” – not just a program – to address the problem with many ongoing efforts.

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

The Department of Transportation is committed to helping communities feeling racially hurt by freeway widening, with the Federal Highway Administration taking a rare step last year to halt a proposed $9 billion widening project in Houston, in part because of it Concerns about civil rights. That move has likely spurred action in other places like Austin, Texas, where environmental and racial justice groups recently filed a lawsuit to force the Texas Transportation Authority to better explain the implications of a proposed freeway expansion there.

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Buttigieg drew fire from some Republicans earlier this year when he said the federal government had done so a commitment to address the harms of racist highway design. “There are trees they put up, they say highways are racially discriminatory. I don’t know how a street can be like this,” DeSantis said in February, dismissing it as “awakened.”

The program is expected to award $195 million in competitive grants this year, of which $50 million will be used to conduct community planning studies.

The department will also launch a “Positive Communities” initiative to provide technical support for potential projects that serve disadvantaged communities alongside the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Department of Transportation previously estimated it could help up to 20 U.S. communities under the new program by removing portions of the freeways and redesigning roads using alternative modes of transportation. According to the department, communities that receive the Reconnecting Communities grants but still need additional funding will be prioritized in their applications for other pots of federal transportation. Dozens more communities could benefit from the planning grants.

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“Before 2021, the idea of ​​looking at the freeway infrastructure that had divided communities was more of a fringe idea,” Ben Crowther, coordinator of the Boston-based Freeway Fighters Network, which is supported by the Congress for the New Urbanism, said “The Biden Administration has really turned that into mainstream thinking. We now think it’s possible – that you can remove a freeway and instead build safe roads that are walkable, add housing, and address other community needs besides travel time.”

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/30/buttigieg-launches-1b-pilot-to-build-racial-equity-in-roads/ Buttigieg launches $1 billion pilot to bring racial justice to streets

Sarah Y. Kim

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