U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced Tuesday the first round of grant awards for the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, which aims to restore connections between communities that had been severed by highways and other transportation infrastructure. Grants totaling $185 million will go to 45 projects, part of a $1 billion investment over five years funded through the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.
“Transportation should connect, not divide, people and communities,” Buttigieg said in a press release.
In reviewing applications for these grants, DOT partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Transportation Department gave priority to applications from economically disadvantaged communities.
“The grants from the ‘Reconnecting Communities’ program will fund projects that prioritize people instead of cars; create opportunities for new housing, parks and community space; and ensure residents can more easily access jobs, schools and the other resources they need to thrive,” said Corinne Kisner, executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, in an emailed statement.
However, Mike McGinn, executive director of America Walks, which advocates for walkable public spaces, noted a disparity in funding for this program. “Today is a major milestone in repairing the harm highway building causes to communities,” he said in an email. “But we also must acknowledge that the program is modest compared to the flood of state and federal money still allocated for highways that divide and damage communities.”
The DOT also established the Reconnecting Communities Institute, which will “provide technical assistance to build organizational and community capacity available to grant recipients and other eligible entities interested in reconnecting communities,” according to the press release.
The initial round of grants consists of 39 planning grants and six capital construction grants. Among the recipients are:
- Baltimore: $2 million to help plan for the redesign or removal of the US 40/Franklin-Mulberry Expressway, which removed 14 contiguous blocks of a predominantly middle-class Black community and caused the demolition of 971 homes and 62 businesses when it was built in 1975.
- Buffalo, New York: $55.6 million to construct a new highway cap and tunnel over the Kensington Expressway, a barrier that isolates residents on the city’s primarily Black east side.
- Little Rock, Arkansas: $2 million for a feasibility study of a project that would reconnect neighborhoods divided by I-30 with a deck park between 6th and 9th streets.
- Tampa, Florida: $5.4 million to lower an I-275 interchange ramp to street level, reconnecting downtown Tampa and its riverfront along with adding new bicycle and pedestrian routes.
An additional $3 billion will be available from the Inflation Reduction Act through the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program, which can also fund projects that reconnect communities, the press release said. The Transportation Department said it anticipates launching this program later this spring.