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Biden administration announces first major step to fight America's racist roads

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a large grant that'll be used to dismantle a highway built to destroy a Black community. And there's more.


The Biden administration is capping off the president’s recent trip to Michigan, focused largely on worker rights and transportation innovation, by handing out its first federal grant to dismantle a highway built to perpetuate racial discrimination. 

The move is part of the Biden administration’s broader effort to remake America’s infrastructure to be more equitable, including addressing racist roads that were designed to facilitate white flight and deprive Black communities of housing and commercial opportunities. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that $104.6 million in federal funds coming from last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill will go toward a plan to dismantle Interstate 375, a highway built to bisect Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood and its epicenter of Black business, Paradise Valley. 

The funds are being allocated to Detroit as part of a $1.5 billion grant program called Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, for states to move critical projects forward.

“This stretch of I-375 cuts like a gash through the neighborhood, one of many examples I have seen in communities across the country where a piece of infrastructure has become a barrier,” Buttigieg told the AP about the Detroit highway.

“With these funds, we’re now partnering with the state and the community to transform it into a road that will connect rather than divide,” he added. 

According to the AP: 

Detroit’s project would create a slower-speed boulevard that aims to improve safety by removing a steep curve and adding LED lighting, while removing 15 old bridges and two stormwater runoff pump stations and building out wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes and pedestrian crossings.

In his role as head of the Transportation Department, Buttigieg has spoken directly of America’s racist infrastructure, and he’s placed a particular emphasis on road construction. And after Republicans threw public tantrums over his acknowledgment of racism built into American infrastructure, Buttigieg was taken aback.

“I’m still surprised that some people are surprised,” he said in a news conference last November, adding, “I don’t think we have anything to lose by confronting that reality.”

A Bloomberg report on neighborhoods destroyed by racist highway construction noted the impact I-375 had on once-bustling Black Bottom, noting that “few traces of the neighborhood remain aside from historical markers.”

A feature on the neighborhood published in Grist noted that “the destruction of the epicenters of Detroit’s Black life started with the condemnation of housing through the National Housing Act of 1949,” which trapped Black people in cramped, low-quality housing. And Grist said the problem continued “when the city received even more funds through the National Highway Act in 1956.” 

Thursday’s announcement included millions of dollars more for separate projects in Arizona, Colorado, New York and states across the country. The significant amount needed to resurrect Black Bottom and its surrounding areas shows how devastating America’s racist infrastructure has been. And it’s a sign a lot more money will be needed to correct the problem nationwide.