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

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

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One afternoon, Anthony Roberts started walking to a convenience store on the other side of a busy highway in Kansas City, Missouri. It has not been an easy journey.

First, we had to make a detour to reach the intersection. Then he had to wait for the light to change. When the pedestrian lights finally came on, he barely had time to cross several lanes and reach the wide median of the highway. Finally, he had to cross other lanes to complete the trek.

“It’s very hard, especially in the winter, for people who don’t have a car,” says Roberts. “No one would risk their life to cross the highway.”

Mr. Roberts’ journey is a small example of the lasting effects resulting from the construction of highways that cut through the urban neighborhoods of cities across the country. Completed in 2001 after decades of construction, Kansas City, USA Highway 71 evacuated thousands of residents and cut off primarily black neighborhoods from grocery stores, health care, and jobs.

Kansas City officials are now considering repairing some of the damage caused by the highway and reconnecting the neighborhoods surrounding the highway. So far, the city has received $5 million in funding from the Biden administration to help plan for potential changes, such as building elevated tracks that will improve pedestrian safety and better connect people to public transportation. We are supporting the formulation.

The funding is an example of the administration’s efforts to address racial disparities created by how the United States has built its physical infrastructure over the last few decades. Department of Transportation funded dozens of projects under the goal of reconnecting communities, including $185 million in grants as part of a pilot program created by the $1 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Act. providing.

But the Kansas City project also shows how difficult and expensive it is to reverse old decisions to build highways that cut through communities of color and divide neighborhoods. Many of the projects funded by the Biden administration aim to leave highways intact but lessen the damage they inflict on surrounding communities. And even removing roads is just the first step in revitalizing neighborhoods.

“Once you destroy a community, the only way to put it back together is to remove the interstate,” said Beth Osborne, who served as acting assistant secretary of transportation during the Obama administration and is now the director of the U.S. Transportation Administration. It’s a much tougher job,” he said. , advocacy groups.

The United States has a long history of highway projects that divide 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 gained attention in cities across the country. DetroitNew Orleans, Syracuse, New York

In his first year in office, President Biden proposed a $15 billion federal program to help improve communities hit by building transportation infrastructure as part of his infrastructure plan.His original proposal was narrowed down to much smaller programwith $1 billion in funding for a bipartisan infrastructure package that was later approved by Congress.

transportation bureau announced the first round of grants In February, $185 million was awarded to 45 projects under the program.Grants include approximately $56 million build a deck over the highway Earn $30 million in Buffalo Urban highway redesign in Long Beach, California

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who visited Buffalo after the grant announcement, said some highway planners “built directly through the heart of vibrant communities. Sometimes it’s the path of least resistance.” For the most part, black and low-income neighborhoods were powerless to resist or rebuild those projects. ”

“Most of the people who made those decisions are now gone,” Buttigieg continued. “No one here today is responsible for creating that situation in the first place. That’s why we are here today.”

Kansas City Official received just over $1 million The program is researching ways to reconnect another part of the city, the West Side, which is separated from the rest of the city by another highway, Interstate 35.

The Department of Transportation is also leveraging other grants to support projects aimed at reconnecting communities.of $5 million prize What Kansas City received to deal with the effects of US71 was from a program called . Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equityor raise.

The grant is intended to help the city develop an improvement plan along a section of highway. City officials aren’t looking to remove the roadway entirely, but they want to make it safer for pedestrians to move from one side to the other. Building a viaduct could save residents from dangerous trips on foot across highways and give them easier access to nearby bus routes.

The current conception of US 71 dates back to the 1950s when it was envisioned as a way to connect downtown Kansas City with the region to the south. Legal battles in the 1970s and his 1980s delayed construction by more than a decade, and eventually parts of the route were reworked to resemble a parkway. Thousands, including many black families, fled to make way for the 16-mile road, also known as Bruce R. Watkins Drive.

Its construction left a lasting mark on Kansas City. The city’s Country Club district, a historic district on the west side of the freeway where homes typically sell for $1 million or more, was left untouched. The area east of the highway is markedly different, with lower real estate values ​​and more abandoned and foreclosed homes.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said it was impossible to live in the city without knowing the scars the highway left on black communities. Churches, schools and businesses disappeared after construction, he said.

Lucas said fighting to undo the damage caused by the road and correcting the wrongs that have affected the city’s black residents are top priorities for him.

“What matters is how we make sure the businesses on both sides are connected, how we make it easier for people to cross without a car, and how we engage the neighborhood without making it feel like just a highway. Let’s do it,” said Mr.

Ron Hunt, who has lived in the Blue Hills neighborhood west of US 71 for decades, said the highway was crippling the area economically, increasing crime and limiting access to grocery stores. He said he saw him there. Hunt said it pained him to see his community decline after the highway was built while other parts of the city continued to develop and blossom.

Residents like Lisa Ray strive to preserve what remains of their beloved neighborhoods. Ray grew up in Town Fork Creek, just east of US 71. It was once a comfortable, middle-class neighborhood with black-owned businesses. But the highway destroyed it, she said.

“Forty years ago, when they first started this project, it sounded great,” she said. “It didn’t turn out the way any of us thought it would.”

Today, she and other members of the Town Fork Creek Community Association are volunteering to provide food and other necessities to elderly residents whose grocery stores have been cut off by highways. They also buy garbage bags and organize cleanup activities to keep bottles, car parts and papers off the streets. The neighborhood association spent funds to purchase door security bars to prevent break-ins within the area.

“All we do is work hard,” Ray said. “I work hard every day, block by block. I can’t help everyone, but I’ll try.”

Kitty Bennett Contributed to research.

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