Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg plans to implement the first road-building program centered on racial equity, earmarking $1 billion in aid toward the effort, reports the Associated Press.
Buttigieg’s plan, which drew fire from Republicans, said the country has an obligation to address the harms of racially designed highways, saying that highways are “racially discriminatory.”
“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, who was expected to announce the pilot program Thursday in Birmingham, Ala., reported The Washington Post.
Urban highways that cut through downtown neighborhoods have often been called a contributing factor to the creation of neglected and under-served communities that are breeding grounds for crime and poverty.
However, one likely 2024 presidential prospect, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, said the effort was one more example of what he called “woke-ification” of federal policy.
“They’re saying that highways are racially discriminatory. I don’t know how a road can be that,” said the governor, who recently introduced so-called “Stop Woke” legislation in his state.
“This is the woke-ification of federal policy, when you see this stuff,”
The initiative was coined the Reconnecting Communities program, and first introduced as part of President Joe Biden’s original American Jobs Plan last year. It allows cities and states to apply for the federal aid over five years to make up for harm caused by roadways built primarily through lower-income, Black communities after the 1950s creation of the interstate highway system.
The program could include projects like rapid bus transit lines linking disadvantaged neighborhoods to jobs; caps built on top of highways featuring green spaces, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways to allow for safe crossings over the roadways; repurposing former rail lines, and partial removal of highways.
All the program grants are available via Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, which provided $1 trillion in infrastructure aid.
But the president originally promised $20 billion toward the effort, and some advocacy groups said the current money isn’t enough to help the more than 50 citizen-led efforts nationwide aimed at dismantling or redesigning highways.
The program comes as communities have fought back against highway expansions.
Last year, the Federal Highway Administration paused a proposed $9 billion highway project in Houston, partly over civil rights concerns.
Additionally, in Austin, Tx., environmental and racial justice groups filed a lawsuit against the Texas transportation agency to detail the potential impact of highway expansion.
The program would operate with $195 million in competitive grants this year, of which $50 million will be devoted to communities to conduct planning studies.