(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday announced a new program aiming to spend $1 billion in an effort to reconnect disconnected cities.
The funding comes as part of the Reconnecting Communities pilot program, which attempts to reconnect cities that have been divided by transportation infrastructure such as highways and railways.
The program will focus on crossing those dividing lines with things like pedestrian walkways and redesigned intersections.
“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,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “Using funds from President [Joe] Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are proud to announce the launch of Reconnecting Communities: the first-ever dedicated federal initiative to unify neighborhoods living with the impacts of past infrastructure choices that divided them.”
The U.S Department of Transportation will also launch its Thriving Communities Initiative, which will provide technical assistance and planning support for infrastructure projects. Communities will be provided a new Department of Transportation Navigator to help access technical assistance programs.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide technical assistance as a part of the initiative to help coordinate housing and transportation planning.
The Reconnecting Communities pilot program is the only federal program in U.S. history to have funding dedicated solely to reconnection efforts.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said states, local and tribal governments, metropolitan planning organizations, nonprofit organizations, and other transportation facility owners can receive funds.
Although highway construction displaced some urban communities, the U.S. Department of Transportation should remain cautious in its approach, said Marc Scribner, the senior transportation policy analyst at the Reason Foundation.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation cannot reverse these past actions and should be careful not to re-victimize the communities it claims to be trying to help,” Scribner said. “If used to eliminate highway ‘stubs’ that were never completed such as Baltimore’s Westside Freeway, the program could play a positive role. However, it could play a negative role if heavy traffic is diverted onto unprotected neighborhood streets such as with I-81 in Syracuse, where a planned freeway teardown has led to a Title VI civil rights complaint due to the anticipated negative safety and air quality impacts of the teardown on a low-income, majority-minority neighborhood.”
By Richie Malouf | The Center Square