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Biden-Harris administration announces $1.35 million grant to help reconnect Jackson Ward

The reconnecting Communities Pilot Program is a first-of-its-kind initiative to reconnect communities that the federal government determined are cut off from opportunity and burdened by past transportation infrastructure decisions – in this case, Interstates 95 and 64.

Trevor Dickerson

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From the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced $1.35 million for Reconnect Jackson Ward in Richmond, Virginia through the new Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative to reconnect communities that are cut off from opportunity and burdened by past transportation infrastructure decisions. This is one of 45 projects receiving a historic $185 million in grant awards.

Established by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Reconnecting Communities Program provides technical assistance and funding for communities’ planning and construction projects that aim to connect neighborhoods back together by removing, retrofitting, or mitigating transportation barriers such as highways and railroad tracks.

Transportation infrastructure should help people get where they need to be, but, too often in our nation’s history, transportation infrastructure has done the opposite by dividing neighborhoods and cutting off communities from opportunity. For example, highways and rail lines can be physical barriers, preventing residents from easy access to social and economic opportunities. This burden is often felt most by communities of color.

This first round of grants will fund construction and planning for transformative community-led solutions, including capping interstates with parks, filling in sunken highways to reclaim the land for housing, converting inhospitable transportation facilities to tree-lined Complete Streets, and creating new crossings through public transportation, bridges, tunnels and trails. These projects will help revitalize communities, provide access to jobs and opportunity, and reduce pollution.

Transportation should connect, not divide, people and communities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We are proud to announce the first grantees of our Reconnecting Communities Program, which will unite neighborhoods, ensure the future is better than the past, and provide Americans with better access to jobs, health care, groceries and other essentials.” 

The Biden-Harris Administration believes that the promise of this nation is that every American has an equal chance to get ahead. Last week, President Biden issued a new executive order directing agencies to further advance racial equity and support for underserved communities, including through federal actions that strengthen urban equitable development and expand economic opportunity in rural communities. Restoring communities like these helps give everyone a fair chance at accessing jobs and essential services such as healthcare services, grocery stores, and places of worship.

The Department has created a virtual story that spotlights communities’ stories, the historic context for the program, and the future it seeks through funding the reconnection of communities HERE.

In this first round of funding for the Reconnecting Communities Program, the Department is awarding 39 Planning Grants and six Capital Construction grants.

In this first round of funding for the Reconnecting Communities Program, the Department is awarding 39 Planning Grants and six Capital Construction grants. The project awarded to Richmond will be used to support planning activities to improve access and reconnect Jackson Ward through the creation of a new bridge or freeway lid that would incorporate transportation connections, public spaces, and opportunities for future development. Jackson Ward, historically known as “Harlem of the South,” had some of the most vibrant Black cultural and business centers in the United States. The area flourished until the 1950s, when Jackson Ward was completely bisected by I-95/64 and began decades of economic and social decline that resonate to this day.  The community was physically and economically separated by the construction of Interstates 95 and 64 (I-95/64) in the 1950s.

The full list of Reconnecting Communities program awards can be viewed HERE.

The Department prioritized applications from economically disadvantaged communities, especially those focused on equity and environmental justice, and that demonstrated strong community engagement and stewardship, and would catalyze shared prosperity in its development and job creation. The Department partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in its application review.

Additionally, the Department is standing up the Reconnecting Communities Institute to provide technical assistance to build organizational and community capacity available to grant recipients and other eligible entities interested in reconnecting communities. The Department will prioritize recipients serving economically disadvantaged communities for technical assistance. More information on the Reconnecting Communities Institute is available HERE.

President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act also established a new, $3 billion program called the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program which can also fund projects that reconnect communities. USDOT anticipates launching this program later this Spring.

USDOT is committed to supporting projects that reconnect communities across its programs. Earlier this year, DOT provided $105 million through the INFRA program for the I-375 Community Reconnection Project in Detroit, Michigan. The I-375, which opened in 1964, paved through two prosperous and vibrant Black neighborhoods – Black Bottom and Paradise Valley. The construction of the interstate displaced 130,000 people and hundreds of small businesses. DOT awarded a $105 million INFRA grant for this project converting the highway to a street-level Complete Streets boulevard with walkways and greenspace.

As part of its commitment to improving transportation equity and the Department’s Equity Action Plan, USDOT also launched the Thriving Communities Program last fall, which facilitates the planning and development of transportation and community revitalization activities and provides tools to ensure that under-resourced communities can access the historic funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. More information on the Thriving Communities Program is available HERE.

For more information on the Reconnecting Communities, including additional resources and information for interested applicants and stakeholders, click HERE.

For more information about USDOT’s Equity Action Plan, click HERE.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.