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‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’ invests $1 billion over five years to ‘address infrastructure barriers that limit mobility, access or economic development for communities across the country’
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has announced $55.59 million for the New York State Route 33 (Kensington Expressway) project in Buffalo through the new Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program – what the U.S. Department of Transportation called “a first-of-its-kind initiative to reconnect communities that are cut off from opportunity and burdened by past transportation infrastructure decisions.” This is one of 45 projects receiving $185 million in grant awards.
Established by President Joe Biden's “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” the Reconnecting Communities Program provides technical assistance and funding for communities’ planning and construction projects that aim to connect neighborhoods back together by removing, retrofitting, or mitigating transportation barriers such as highways and railroad tracks.
The press release stated, “Transportation infrastructure should help people get where they need to be, but, too often in our nation’s history, transportation infrastructure has done the opposite by dividing neighborhoods and cutting off communities from opportunity. For example, highways and rail lines can be physical barriers, preventing residents from easy access to social and economic opportunities. This burden is often felt most by communities of color.
“This first round of grants will fund construction and planning for transformative community-led solutions, including capping interstates with parks, filling in sunken highways to reclaim the land for housing, converting inhospitable transportation facilities to tree-lined complete streets, and creating new crossings through public transportation, bridges, tunnels and trails. These projects will help revitalize communities, provide access to jobs and opportunity, and reduce pollution.”
Buttigieg said, "Transportation should connect, not divide, people and communities. We are proud to announce the first grantees of our Reconnecting Communities Program, which will unite neighborhoods, ensure the future is better than the past, and provide Americans with better access to jobs, health care, groceries and other essentials."
Last week, Biden issued a new executive order directing agencies to “further advance racial equity and support for underserved communities, including through federal actions that strengthen urban equitable development and expand economic opportunity in rural communities.
“Restoring communities like these helps give everyone a fair chance at accessing jobs and essential services such as healthcare services, grocery stores, and places of worship.”
The DOT has created a virtual story that spotlights communities’ stories, the context for the program, and the future it seeks through funding the reconnection of communities here.
In this first round of funding for the Reconnecting Communities Program, the DOT is awarding 39 planning grants and six capital construction grants.
This capital construction award will help the New York State DOT cap approximately 4,100 feet of the Kensington Expressway to provide continuous greenspace and “reestablish community character and cohesiveness.” The new tunnel will reconnect several east-west roads that were severed, and enhance east-west connections with safe crossing options and complete streets design features.
The press release stated, “Construction of the highway in the 1960s required the demolition of more than 600 residential properties, the removal of a landscaped median, and created a barrier to community connectivity. The construction of the expressway resulted in substantial residential displacement with the primarily Black population within Buffalo confined to the east side, isolated with low access to jobs, grocery stores and banks.”
In addition, New York has received another award for the City of Syracuse to “study how to best address inequities on the city’s south side created by a raise highway and elevated railroad.”
The full list of Reconnecting Communities program awards can be viewed here.
The DOT “prioritized applications from economically disadvantaged communities, especially those focused on equity and environmental justice, and that demonstrated strong community engagement and stewardship, and would catalyze shared prosperity in its development and job creation. The department partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in its application review.”
Additionally, the DOT is standing up the Reconnecting Communities Institute to provide technical assistance to build organizational and community capacity available to grant recipients and other eligible entities interested in reconnecting communities. The department will prioritize recipients serving economically disadvantaged communities for technical assistance. More information on the Reconnecting Communities Institute is available HERE.
Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act also established a new, $3 billion program called the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program, which can also fund projects that reconnect communities. USDOT anticipates launching this program later this spring.
The press release stated, “USDOT is committed to supporting projects that reconnect communities across its programs. Earlier this year, DOT provided $105 million through the INFRA program for the I-375 Community Reconnection Project in Detroit, Michigan. The I-375, which opened in 1964, paved through two prosperous and vibrant Black neighborhoods – Black Bottom and Paradise Valley. The construction of the interstate displaced 130,000 people and hundreds of small businesses. DOT awarded a $105 million INFRA grant for this project, converting the highway to a street-level complete streets boulevard with walkways and greenspace.
“As part of its commitment to improving transportation equity and the department's Equity Action Plan, USDOT also launched the Thriving Communities Program last fall, which facilitates the planning and development of transportation and community revitalization activities, and provides tools to ensure that under-resourced communities can access the historic funding provided by the ‘Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.’ ”
More information on the Thriving Communities Program is available here.
For more information on the Reconnecting Communities, including additional resources and information for interested applicants and stakeholders, click here.
For more information about USDOT's Equity Action Plan, click here.