Padilla Helps Introduce Legislation to Reconnect and Revitalize Communities Divided by Transportation Infrastructure

Bill would address the legacy of highway construction in many communities of color and low-income communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), joined Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), along with Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.), in introducing legislation to reconnect and revitalize areas that were harmed by the construction of the Interstate Highway System and other infrastructural barriers. The Reconnecting Communities Act would establish a grant program at the Department of Transportation to help communities identify and remove or retrofit transportation infrastructure that creates obstacles to mobility and opportunity. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

For far too long, some Californians have faced historic barriers to mobility and economic opportunity due to highway construction. This injustice has deliberately targeted communities of color by demolishing homes and small businesses, dividing neighborhoods, and fostering isolation from opportunity, heightened exposure to pollution, and chronic disinvestment. In Oakland, California, local leaders are considering opportunities to repair the inequities caused by the I-980 freeway and reconnect West Oakland to the city’s downtown.

“In cities across the country, communities of color have disproportionately seen their homes and businesses demolished for the construction of highways that in turn separate them from their neighbors and from economic opportunity. This is just one example of how government has disrupted and divided communities through the placement of infrastructure projects. As we work to rebuild our economy and our infrastructure, we must do so equitably. The Reconnecting Communities Act will play an important role in making sure that we don’t return to the status quo, but that we repair the harm and injustice these communities have faced,” said Padilla.

“The development of the Interstate Highway System connected our country in ways it hadn’t been previously, but it also upended neighborhoods and left communities divided, many times over economic and racial lines. In many communities of color, nearby highways continue to represent real barriers for getting around and getting ahead,” said Carper. “The Reconnecting Communities Act would empower communities to reverse this unfortunate legacy by building spaces over and around our highways, revitalizing nearby areas as a result. This legislation would help fund projects like a highway cap on I-95 in Wilmington to reconnect cities and open the door on a more equitable and sustainable future.”

“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. Reversing this history by creating infrastructure that brings people together instead of holding communities back is vital to our success as a nation. That’s why I worked to author a pilot program to help tackle this issue, and why I’m glad to join Senator Carper in introducing this legislation to broaden our investments so our cities can transform divisive and harmful projects into economic opportunity. From Baltimore to cities across America, this is a key infrastructure priority, and we’ll be working to get it done,” said Van Hollen.

“In New York and across the country, highways like Syracuse’s I-81 have too often been built through low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, displacing residents, increasing pollution, and limiting economic opportunities in impacted neighborhoods,” said Schumer. “That’s why I am proud to co-sponsor the Reconnecting Communities Act – a key part of the Economic Justice Act – to help right these wrongs by identifying and removing these hulking physical barriers to mobility and opportunity. Infrastructure should build up communities, not divide them. This legislation will ensure local communities have the federal resources needed to revitalize and reconnect communities that have been neglected for far too long.”

“Transportation should be a source of growth and mobility, not division and exclusion,” said Cardin. “We need to reconnect neighborhoods in Baltimore City and elsewhere that have suffered the harmful impacts of past infrastructure projects while receiving none of the benefits. Our legislation provides federal resources to tear down the physical barriers to opportunity.”

“I am proud to work with Senator Carper on this legislation that not only aligns with President Biden’s American Jobs Plan but also would make purposeful investments in infrastructure that will help address the historical impacts of discriminatory public planning practices,” said Coons. “The Reconnecting Communities Act is one of many critical steps we must take to ensure we build back better in a fair and equitable way.”

Bill text can be found here.

A one-pager on the bill can be found here.


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