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Pete Buttigieg

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On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg launched a $1 billion program aimed at helping racially segregated neighborhoods and cities divided by cumbersome road projects.

According to NPR, the initiative, which is “first of its kind,” will help to improve the infrastructure in dozens of communities and potentially bring employment to those living in the affected areas.

Under Buttiegieg’s Reconnecting Communities program, the project could seek to develop new transit lines that would link economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to jobs. Additionally, the plan calls for green spaces to help reduce air population and more walkways to allow for safe crossings over highways.

“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,” said Buttigieg on Thursday while introducing the new project in Birmingham, Alabama. “This is a forward-looking vision. Our focus isn’t about assigning blame. It isn’t about getting caught up in guilt. It’s about fixing a problem. It’s about mending what has been broken, especially when the damage was done with taxpayer dollars.”

The program will allocate nearly $195 million in grants to communities across the nation dedicated to dismantling or restructuring highways.

Roadways have led to racial inequity for Black communities

Cities and states would be able to apply for federal aid to help improve some of the lingering socio-economic effects roadways have caused for many Black communities across the United States.

The interstate highway system was created after Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956. The provision promised to build a network of controlled-access highways for nearly 41,000 miles, twisting across the nation to expand America’s roadway system and connect 90 percent of American cities.

But while the law strived to improve unsafe roads and ensure faster travel, thousands of African Americans were negatively impacted in the process. Between 1950 and 1970 “more than 475,000 households and more than a million people were displaced nationwide because of the federal roadway construction,” according to .Highways cut through a number of neighborhoods, making everyday living difficult for residents. Poor air quality from road construction led to health problems for citizens and property value plummeted. Small businesses and community spaces were also destroyed as a result, cutting off economic stability for those living in economically disadvantaged areas.

Last year, The Transportation Department made a historic decision to pause a $9 billion road project in Houston due to civil rights concerns about the proposal. Harris County officials filed a lawsuit alleging that the state of Texas ignored the potential ramifications of developing the widening project in neighborhoods. Consequently, the county paused the lawsuit in hopes of resolving the matter. The project is being used as an important test to see if The Biden administration will live up to its promise of rectifying racial inequity in regard to U.S. infrastructure,  AP News reported.


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