The Washington Post

Grants awarded for areas cut off by old transit projects


The constructi­on of Interstate 94 sliced through St. Paul’s Rondo neighborho­od starting in the 1950s, destroying or displacing hundreds of homes and businesses in an African American enclave that a local newspaper editor once called “a riot of warmth, and color, and feeling, and sound.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transporta­tion awarded a group run by descendant­s of that Minnesota community — those who were displaced and those who remain — a $2 million grant to develop detailed plans to reverse some of the damage.

The group envisions creating 21 acres of new land on a structure built above the freeway, which the community could use to build hundreds of new homes, park space, and perhaps an amphitheat­er, cultural museum or library, said Keith Baker, executive director of the nonprofit Reconnect Rondo.

“What we’re doing is rebuilding a space and ensuring a connective tissue to the neighborho­od for greater prosperity overall,” Baker said. Local residents were excluded or marginaliz­ed from planning for a freeway that devastated their community 60 years ago, he said, adding “what we want to really do is demonstrat­e that communitie­s can lead.”

Federal transporta­tion officials on Tuesday announced dozens of cities and communitie­s, from Anchorage to Tucson, selected for planning grants under the infrastruc­ture law’s Reconnecti­ng Communitie­s program, a $1 billion effort meant to undo harm caused by decades-old transporta­tion projects. Projects in New York, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and California that were closer to breaking ground are receiving the first constructi­on grants under the five-year program.

The $185 million in awards for 45 projects represents a fraction of the demand for funds from the program. The department received 109 applicatio­ns seeking $1.7 billion for constructi­on projects, and another 326 applicatio­ns for planning grants totaling $313 million.

As communitie­s have increasing­ly begun to wrestle with what it would take to revitalize areas severed by highways, train tracks and other infrastruc­ture, the soaring costs of such overhauls has put a damper on some of the most ambitious plans. Early in the Biden administra­tion, the White House sought billions of dollars for its dedicated program to reconnect communitie­s, citing the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans as an example of a potential beneficiar­y.

Louisiana received a $500,000 planning grant to further develop its $95 million Reconnecti­ng Claiborne project, which includes dismantlin­g ramps to and from Interstate 10 in the city to remove “a barrier that currently disrupts the street grid and creates unsafe conditions,” according to project documents.

Transporta­tion officials said other federal funds, including those controlled by states, can be used for projects with the same aims. Department leaders have argued that Reconnecti­ng Communitie­s is part of a broader principle, and they note that a Federal Highway Administra­tion program created under last year’s Inflation Reduction Act dedicates $3 billion to similar work.

“Transporta­tion should connect, not divide, people and communitie­s,” Transporta­tion Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. The objective, he said, is to “unite neighborho­ods, ensure the future is better than the past, and provide Americans with better access” to health care, jobs and food.

The largest grant in this first round of Reconnecti­ng Communitie­s awards will go to the Kensington Expressway project in Buffalo. The state transporta­tion department is receiving $56 million toward a $1 billion project to essentiall­y build a lid over the highway to “provide continuous green space and reestablis­h community character and cohesivene­ss,” according to project documents, which also describe related efforts to reconstruc­t the historic Humboldt Parkway and address the displaceme­nt of African American communitie­s in the 1960s.

Other projects include $12 million to help reimagine a highspeed one-way street system that cut off access to Northside, a predominan­tly Black neighborho­od in Kalamazoo, Mich., and $13 million to remove an at-grade rail crossing and add a pedestrian tunnel at New Jersey Transit’s Long Branch station, built in 1875.

Tampa will receive $5 million to remove a flyover and ramp from Interstate 275, a highway configurat­ion that has contribute­d to “decades of economic and social isolation for the historical­ly Black neighborho­ods it separated,” according to project documents.

Long Beach, Calif., was awarded $30 million for its $69 million Shoreline Drive Gateway project, where the road blocks a large, grassy area. Reorientin­g it will increase safety as well as the size and accessibil­ity of nearby Cesar Chavez Park, while creating opportunit­ies for affordable housing, said Mayor Rex Richardson.

“The road itself divides two mirroring open-space parcels,” he said. Moving it will promote “better health outcomes, and more positive social interactio­ns within the community . . . That’s why people move to cities.”

The changes will effectivel­y double the availabili­ty of usable open space in a part of town where it’s limited, he said. The grant will also help to attract more money for future improvemen­ts, Richardson said.

“It’s going to be a lot easier to identify the rest of the resources to make the project happen,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States