Highways Have Sliced Through City After City. Can the U.S. Undo the Damage?

Anthony Roberts spent an afternoon in Kansas City, Mo. I set out to walk to a convenience store on the opposite side of a busy highway. It was not an easy journey.

First, he had to go out of his way to reach the intersection. Then he had to wait for the light to change. When the walk signal finally came, he had little time to cross several lanes of traffic and reach the wide median of the highway. Finally, he had to cross another set of streets to complete his trek.

“For someone who doesn’t have a car, it’s very difficult, especially in the winter,” Mr Roberts said. “No one wants to risk their life trying to cross the highway.”

Mr. Roberts’ journey is just one small example of the long-lasting consequences of building highways through urban neighborhoods in cities across the country. Completed in 2001 after decades in the works, the US 71 highway in Kansas City displaced thousands of residents and cut off predominantly black neighborhoods from grocery stores, health care and jobs. gave

Kansas City officials are now trying to repair some of the damage caused by the highway and reconnect the surrounding neighborhoods. To date, the city has received $5 million in funding from the Biden administration to help develop plans for potential changes, such as building overpasses that could improve pedestrian safety and allow people to travel at large. Can be better connected with transportation.

The funding is an example of the administration’s efforts to address racial disparities that have resulted in how the U.S. has built physical infrastructure over the past decades. The Transportation Department has funded dozens of projects aimed at reconnecting communities, including $185 million in grants as part of a pilot program created by the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law.

But the project in Kansas City also shows how difficult and expensive it can be to reverse long-standing highway-building decisions that segregated communities and neighborhoods of color. Many of the projects funded by the Biden administration would maintain highways but try to minimize damage to surrounding areas. And even paving the street is just the first step in revitalizing a neighborhood.

“Once you destroy a community, putting it back together is a lot more than just removing an interstate,” said Beth Osborne, who served as acting assistant secretary at the Department of Transportation during the Obama administration. has served and is now Director of Transportation for the United States. , an advocacy group.

The United States has a long history of highway projects dividing urban communities, dating back to the construction of the federal Interstate Highway System in the mid-20th century. In recent years, the idea of ​​removing some of these roads has come up has gained traction including in cities across the country Detroit, New Orleans And Syracuse, NY

In his first year in office, as part of his infrastructure plan, President Biden proposed a $15 billion federal program to help improve disadvantaged communities by building transportation infrastructure. . His original proposal was scrapped. A very small programWith $1 billion in funding, in a bipartisan infrastructure package that Congress later approved.

Department of Transportation Announced the first batch of grants. Under the program in February, 45 projects were awarded $185 million. The grants included about $56 million in support. Build a deck on the expressway in Buffalo and is headed for $30 million. Redesigning the Urban Freeway in Long Beach, California

In a visit to Buffalo after the grants were announced, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said some highway planners “have built them directly through vibrant communities — sometimes to reinforce segregation, sometimes because This was the path of least resistance, almost always because black neighborhoods and low-income neighborhoods lacked the power to resist or reshape these projects.

“Now, most of the people who made these decisions are not around today,” Mr. Buttig continued. “No one here today is responsible for creating this situation in the first place. But we are all responsible for what we do in our time to repair it, and that is why we are here today.

Kansas City officials Just over $1 million has been received. The program is designed to study how to reconnect another part of the city, the Westside neighborhood, which is separated from other areas by a different highway, Interstate 35.

The Department of Transportation is also using other grant money to support projects aimed at connecting communities together. gave $5 million prize Kansas City has received a program to deal with the impacts of US 71. Rebuilding America’s infrastructure with sustainability and equityor RAISE.

The purpose of the grant is to help the city develop plans to improve a portion of the highway. City officials aren’t looking to remove the road entirely, but they want to make it safer for pedestrians to cross from one side to the other. Construction of overpasses can save residents from having to walk dangerously across the highway and make it easier to get to nearby bus routes.

What is now US 71 can be traced back to the 1950s, when it was envisioned as a route connecting Kansas City to areas south. A legal battle in the 1970s and 1980s delayed construction for more than a decade, and part of the route was eventually turned into a parkway. Thousands of people, including many black families, were displaced to make way for the 10-mile road, also known as Bruce R. Watkins Drive.

Its construction left a lasting impression on Kansas City. The city’s Country Club District, a group of historic neighborhoods west of the freeway where homes typically cost more than $1 million, was untouched by the roadway. The area east of the highway is markedly different, with lower property values ​​and more abandoned and foreclosed homes.

The mayor of Kansas City, Quentin Lucas, said it was impossible to live in his city and not know the scar the highway left on the black community. Churches, schools and businesses disappeared after its construction, he said.

Mr. Lucas said fighting to end the damage caused by the road — and righting the wrongs affecting the city’s black residents — was his top priority.

“It’s how to make sure we’re connecting businesses on both sides, how we make it easier for people who can cross without a car and how to engage a neighborhood and have them known only as a highway,” he said.

Ron Hunt, who has lived in the Blue Hills neighborhood west of U.S. 71 for decades, said he has seen the highway destroy the area economically, increase crime and limit access to grocery stores. Mr. Hunt said he was saddened to see his community wither away after the highway was built as other parts of the city continued to grow and flourish.

Residents like Lisa Ray are trying to preserve what’s left of the neighborhoods they loved. Ms. Ray grew up in Fork Creek, a town just east of U.S. 71, once a pleasant middle-class area filled with black businesses. But the highway destroyed it, he said.

“It looked good 40 years ago when they first started this project,” he said. “It didn’t turn out the way any of us thought it would.”

Now, he and other members of the Town Fork Creek Neighborhood Association volunteer to deliver food and other necessities to elderly residents cut off from grocery stores by the highway. They also buy garbage bags and organize cleanups to prevent bottles, car parts and papers from littering the streets. The neighborhood association has invested in the purchase of door security bars to help prevent vandalism in the area.

“We just try,” Ms. Ray said. “I try every day, block by block. I can’t help everyone, but I try.

Kitty Bennett participated in the research.

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