Democrats to Propose $15 Billion to Address Highway Inequities

  • Bill reflects a proposal in Biden’s infrastructure plan
  • Initiative includes 5-year fund to reconnect neighborhoods

Democrats began translating President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan into legislation Monday with a bill to reconnect urban communities cut off by highways.

The bill from Senate Democrats, led by Environment and Public Works Chairman Tom Carper (Del.), would create grants to finance the removal or retrofitting of highway overpasses and depressed highways that have harmed neighborhoods often occupied by low-income individuals and communities of color.

The legislation would authorize $15 billion over five years for the program. Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure and jobs package released last month proposed $20 billion for a new plan “to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments and ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has repeatedly said he wants to address equity through transportation policy. The senators’ proposal — which only has Democratic cosponsors — poses a test of the administration’s ability to get bipartisan support for that goal. Republicans have signaled they will support only a smaller, more narrowly focused package than the one Democrats are discussing.

Photographer: Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Vehicles travel along a highway in downtown Atlanta, Ga., on Oct. 2, 2020.

Carper’s bill would provide grants to help community members participate in transportation planning, to fund project feasibility studies, and to finance construction activities to remove or retrofit infrastructure that poses a barrier, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by Bloomberg Government.

The Environment and Public Works Committee included a similar pilot program, originally authored by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), in its portion of a bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill approved in 2019. That measure never got a vote in the Senate, controlled at the time by Republicans.

Van Hollen pointed to his home state, where a planned highway uprooted homes and divided Baltimore, as an example of the projects that need attention.

“For years, Baltimore’s Highway to Nowhere has scarred the city, dividing communities and serving as a stark example of the long history of inequity in infrastructure,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “Reversing this history by creating infrastructure that brings people together instead of holding communities back is vital to our success as a nation.”

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