Buttigieg announces funding aimed at reconnecting communities divided by road projects

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg addresses a crowd in Birmingham's Woodlawn neighborhood to announce a new transportation initiative.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg addresses a crowd in Birmingham's Woodlawn neighborhood to announce a new transportation initiative.

Kyra Miles, WBHM

When Interstate 65 was built, it displaced many Black neighborhoods in Birmingham. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg drew on that fact when he announced a new initiative designed to undo some of these systemic inequities in infrastructure and transportation during a visit to Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood on Thursday.

“Reconnecting Communities” is designed to unify neighborhoods which have previously been displaced by discriminatory infrastructure decisions. The $1 billion initiative will fund projects that give people more access to their communities like paving more sidewalks, creating new greenways and adding public transportation.

“We can’t ignore the basic truth that some of the planners and politicians behind those projects built them directly through the heart of vibrant, populated communities,” Buttigieg said. “Sometimes in an effort to reinforce segregation, sometimes because the people there had less power to resist, and sometimes as part of a direct effort to replace or eliminate black neighborhoods.

There are many additional cases in Birmingham’s past where railroads and highways divided communities by class and race. For example, Center Street prior to the 1950s segregated the city.

“Birmingham is the perfect city to talk about the importance of transportation equity,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “Too often communities of color have been cut out of transportation advancements. Those oversights mean residents are often or have often been denied opportunities for adequate health care, education and employment.”

Woodfin said the city will apply for the grant money under the program, but details of how the money will be used haven’t been finalized. He said it will support local plans in Birmingham like the Birmingham Xpress Rapid Transit that is set to open later this year.

“Simply put, when we deny our communities adequate transportation options, we stifle their growth and their ability to build wealth,” Woodfin said.

The initiative is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which U.S Rep. Terri Sewell said will address more than highways and railroads, but also broadband access and wastewater.

“We finally got across the finish line a bipartisan infrastructure bill that has now been signed and will benefit the state of Alabama and this nation. When I think about the systemic disinvestment that we’ve had in our infrastructure, it was laid bare during this pandemic,” Sewell said.

The plan is the first of its kind on a federal level and will revamp local infrastructure in communities that apply. Buttigieg said “Reconnecting Communities” will prioritize economically disadvantaged communities.

“Just imagine if instead of an overpass right by your house, there is a park where your kids could play with their friends on the weekend,” Buttigieg said. “Imagine if instead of having to drive a mile or more out of your way to get around a rail line, you could drive right over it or even walk straight across a scenic greenway.”

Kyra Miles is a Report for America corps member reporting in education for WBHM.


Lawmakers consider medical cannabis revamp

It’s been three years since Alabama lawmakers passed legislation establishing a system to govern medical cannabis in the state, yet not one prescription for the drug has been filled. The rollout has been delayed by lawsuits and conflict over the licensing process.

Man arrested in connection with device that exploded outside Alabama attorney general’s office

Kyle Benjamin Douglas Calvert, 26, of Irondale, Alabama, was arrested Wednesday on charges of malicious use of an explosive and possession of an unregistered destructive device, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

For some Gulf South schools, a March Madness loss can still be a win off the court

Making it into the NCAA Tournament can translate to boosts in student enrollment, athletic involvement, merchandise sales and more for participating schools.

‘A bad day to be a panther’: Students react to BSC’s closure

Birmingham-Southern College students learned about their school's closure while on Spring Break. When they returned to campus, their emotions ranged from frustrated to angry to sad.

Bill revamping ethics law advances in the legislature

Lawmakers also took up the General Fund budget and a proposal to increase the number of medical cannabis licenses.

Restrictions on absentee ballot help in Alabama are being challenged in a lawsuit

The Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and other groups are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in federal court. They say the statute disenfranchises voters, including senior citizens and disabled voters, who may need assistance in the absentee voting process.

More Front Page Coverage