DOT pushing highway projects to help revitalize urban areas

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is calling for infrastructure projects he says can help revitalize urban areas and close gaps in economic inequality.

The new Department of Transportation (DOT) push will place a greater emphasis on projects that connect people who live in low-income and minority neighborhoods to “areas of opportunity” and prioritize projects that encourage investment in underserved communities.

It’s part of a fight against the tendency for highway projects to be routed through low-income and minority neighborhoods.

{mosads}Foxx on Wednesday said that, after the interstate highway system began, bulldozing urban areas to build roads that bypassed the communities they ran through became common practice.

Two-thirds of the families displaced were often poor and nonwhite, and neighborhoods became divided and weakened, he said.
“Their location was the product of design,” Foxx said during a press call. “Instead of connecting us to each other, highway decision makers in the past separated us.”
Foxx said mobility is critical to helping people access jobs, education, healthcare and other opportunities. He added that although the transit system has helped contribute to inequality gaps, it can also be part of the solution.
The new DOT effort will encourage transportation facilities to be built by and for the communities that are affected by them.

Foxx said new infrastructure will be needed to match expected population growth in the coming decades.
“With these principles, we can make our infrastructure the connective tissue it could be, safeguard the communities and fill the chasm between the opportunity gaps we face in this society,” Foxx said.
Part of the plan can be achieved through existing programs and authorities.

In selecting projects to receive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, the department is already considering access to opportunity as a factor and has launched other grants for expanding transit services to disadvantaged and low-income individuals. The DOT also can shutter projects if they have a disparate impact on disadvantaged groups.
But with a majority of annual federal funding for surface transportation funneled to state and local governments, Foxx acknowledged the importance of getting local legislators on board with his vision.
“So far, a bipartisan group of governors and mayors have signaled their support,” Foxx said. “We’ll be asking more to sign on in the very near future.”

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