Connecting state and local government leaders
The federal Transportation Department announced $3.35 billion in grant opportunities to reconnect communities divided by highways, rail lines and other infrastructure.
State and local agencies could get a slice of up to $3.35 billion to repair problems created by highways, rail lines and other infrastructure that divides communities, the Biden administration announced this week.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said it will combine the application process for two similar grant programs that Congress created in recent years to make things easier for potential applicants. The joint application will allow communities to get a portion of $198 million through the Reconnecting Communities pilot program or $3.155 billion for the Neighborhood Access and Equity Program. Submissions are due by Sept. 28.
“Transportation should never divide communities. Its purpose is to connect people to jobs, schools, housing, groceries, family, places of worship and more,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement. “By combining these two grant programs into a single application, we are making it easier for communities to seek and receive the funding they need to build better, safer, inclusive infrastructure for the future.”
This will be the second round of applications for the $1 billion Reconnecting Communities program, which Congress created as part of the 2021 infrastructure law to help neighborhoods mitigate some of the damages that infrastructure projects caused for local residents.
When building the interstate highway system, state transportation agencies often placed the new roads in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Highway viaducts devastated thriving Black business districts in places such as Denver; New Orleans; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Syracuse, New York. Many people and businesses left, while those that stayed behind have had to live with the noise, pollution and obstructions caused by the highways.
Meanwhile, train tracks and other infrastructure also created barriers, often imposing or reinforcing racial segregation among residents.
The problem is so widespread that the Transportation Department received applications from more than 400 communities in the initial round of grants for Reconnecting Communities. (More than half the applicants were city or township governments.) The federal agency selected six projects for construction grants and 39 communities to get money for planning projects.
Congress included $3.1 billion more for similar projects in the Inflation Reduction Act, through the creation of the Neighborhood Access and Equity Program.
An announcement from the Transportation Department indicated that all of that money could be at play in the next round of grants. The funding includes $135 million in planning grants; $450 million in regional planning incentives and $2.57 billion in construction grants.
The money could be used for a variety of purposes, including covering a highway, turning a highway into a boulevard, adding trails and bike lanes, installing sound barriers, providing better connections to transit, using “green infrastructure” to handle storm runoff, reducing urban heat island hot spots, building safety features and curbing air pollution.
The Transportation Department said it would be launching a new Reconnecting Communities Institute later in the summer to help applicants receive technical assistance with preparing their potential projects.
The notice of funding opportunity is available here.
Daniel C. Vock is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.