Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has launched an initiative that seeks to redress inequalities created by civil engineering in previous generations.
According to the AP, Buttigieg’s Reconnecting Communities project aims to reunify historically black neighborhoods divided decades ago when the interstate highway system was developed and restore the civic pride that comes with safe and beautiful green spaces.
“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,” Buttigieg said on Thursday.
“This is a forward-looking vision,” he continued. “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 pilot program allows municipalities up to five years to apply for funding for mass transit lines; green spaces built on top of roadways, known as freeway lids or “caps”; repurposing defunct rail lines; and perhaps even rerouting or partially removing highways. Targeted areas include New Orleans, Houston, Tampa, and perhaps Nashville.
At least, that’s what Tennessee Democrat state Rep. Harold Love Jr. is hoping.
“If you’re born here and all you see are these structures like this that are wrought-iron fences and chain-link fences and the noise from the interstate, what you assume is, ‘I’m not valued,’ because they placed this here,” Love said a year ago. “But if you could change that model and talk about how you were once valued in this neighborhood, and were trying to re-create that value by putting this (cap) here, you may change the mindset of children growing up here.”
Despite the enthusiasm for the project in some circles, Buttigieg and the project have also received their fair share of criticism.
“I heard some stuff, some weird stuff from the secretary of transportation trying to make this about social issues,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “To me, a road’s a road.”
DeSantis also called it further evidence of “woke-ification” of American politics and culture.
Senator Ted Cruz expressed similar sentiments. “The roads are racist. We must get rid of roads,” he tweeted last November.
Others say that the project won’t be very effective at its current price point of $1 billion, a far cry from the $20 billion President Biden proposed initially. However, those cities that participate in the Reconnecting Communities project will be considered for other Department of Transformation resources as well.
According to the AP, the program is expected to allocate $195 million of the $1 billion this year.