Highways pass through the city one after another. Can America recover its losses?

One afternoon, Anthony Roberts was walking to a convenience store across a busy freeway in Kansas City, Missouri. This is not an easy trip.

First, he had to take a detour to reach the intersection. Then he has to wait for the lights to come on. When the pedestrian signal finally came on, he barely had time to cross the few lanes to reach the wide median of the freeway. In the end, he had to cross another set of lanes to complete his trek.

“It’s very difficult for someone who doesn’t have a car, especially in winter,” Mr Roberts said. “No one wants to risk their life trying to cross the road.”

Mr. Roberts’ journey is a small example of the lasting impact of building highways through urban communities in cities across the country. The highway in Kansas City, US 71, was completed in 2001 after decades of construction, displacing thousands of residents and cutting off the predominantly black neighborhood from grocery stores, health care and jobs.

Kansas City officials are now looking to repair some of the damage caused by the highway and reconnect surrounding communities. The city has so far received $5 million in funding from the Biden administration to help with plans for potential changes, such as building overpasses that could improve pedestrian safety and better connect people to public transit.

The funding is an example of the administration’s efforts to address the racial disparities that have resulted from building physical infrastructure in the United States over the past few decades. The Transportation Department has funded dozens of projects aimed at reconnecting communities, including a $185 million grant as part of a pilot program created by the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law.

But the Kansas City project also shows how difficult and expensive it is to reverse long-ago decisions to build highways that cut off communities of color and divide them. Many of the projects funded by the Biden administration would keep the highways intact but would seek to reduce the damage they cause to surrounding areas. Even demolishing roads is only the first step in revitalizing a community.

“Once you destroy a community, putting it back together is much harder than just tearing down the interstate,” said Beth Osborne, acting assistant secretary of transportation during the Obama administration and now director of the U.S. Department of Transportation , an advocacy group.

The United States has a long history of highway projects dividing urban neighborhoods, dating back to the construction of the federal interstate highway system in the mid-20th century.In recent years, the idea of ​​demolishing some of these roads has gained traction cities across the country, including Detroit, new orleans and Syracuse, New York

In his first year in office, as part of his infrastructure plan, President Biden proposed a $15 billion federal plan to help improve communities damaged by transportation infrastructure.His original proposal was reduced to a much smaller programproviding $1 billion in funding in a bipartisan infrastructure package later approved by Congress.

Transport Department Announcement of the first batch of grants Under the plan, $185 million was allocated to 45 projects in February.Grant includes approximately $56 million to help building decks on the highway in Buffalo and $30 million for redesigning urban highways in long beach california

During a visit to Buffalo after the funding was announced, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said planners for some highways “push them right through the heart of vibrant neighborhoods—sometimes to enforce segregation, Sometimes it’s because it’s the path of least resistance, almost always because black and low-income communities don’t have the capacity to resist or reshape these programs.”

“Now, most of the people who made those decisions are not around today,” Mr. Buttigieg continued. “No one in this room today is responsible for causing this in the first place. But all of us are responsible for what we did in our time to fix it, which is why we are here today.”

kansas city official Received more than $1 million From this plan studies how to reconnect another part of the city, the Westside neighborhood, which is separated from the rest by the disparate highway Interstate 35.

The Department of Transportation also uses other grants to support projects aimed at bringing communities back together.this $5 million bonus Kansas City received a plan to address the impact of US 71 from a group called Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equityor raise.

The grant is intended to help the city develop an improvement plan along a stretch of the highway. City officials don’t intend to completely tear down the road, but they want to make it safer for pedestrians to get from one side to the other. Building flyovers would save residents from the perilous journey across the highway on foot and make it easier to access nearby bus lines.

The idea of ​​what is now US 71 dates back to the 1950s, when it was conceived as a way to connect downtown Kansas City to the southern region. A lawsuit in the 1970s and 80s delayed construction for more than a decade, and parts of the route were eventually transformed into more Park Avenues. Thousands of people, including many black families, were displaced to make way for the 10-mile stretch of road, also known as Bruce R. Watkins Drive.

Its construction left a lasting mark on Kansas City. The city’s Country Club District, a group of historic neighborhoods west of the highway where homes typically sell for as much as $1 million, is untouched by the road. Areas east of the highway are markedly different, with lower property values ​​and more abandoned and foreclosed homes.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said it was impossible to live in his city and not be aware of the scars the highway left on the black community. Churches, schools and businesses disappeared after they were built, he said.

Mr. Lucas said efforts to undo the damage caused by the roads — and right the wrongs affecting the city’s black residents — were his top priorities.

“It’s about how we make sure we connect businesses on both sides, how we make it easier for people without cars to cross the road, and how we engage with communities and not have them just be called highways,” he said.

Ron Hunt, who has lived in the Blue Hills community west of U.S. Route 71 for decades, said he has seen the highway weaken the region’s economy, fuel crime and limit people Access to the grocery store. Mr Hunt said it pained him to see his own community languishing after the motorway was built as the rest of the city continued to grow.

Residents like Lisa Ray are working hard to preserve what’s left of their favorite neighborhood. Ms. Ray grew up in Town Fork Creek, just east of US 71, in what was once a pleasant middle-class area full of black-owned businesses. But the highway destroyed it, she said.

“It sounded good when they first started the project 40 years ago,” she said. “It didn’t turn out the way any of us thought it would.”

Now, she and other members of the Town Fork Creek Neighborhood Association volunteer to provide food and other essentials to elderly residents cut off from the highway by grocery stores. They also buy trash bags and organize cleanups to keep bottles, car parts and paper from filling the streets. Neighborhood associations have paid for door security bars to help prevent burglaries in the area.

“All we do is try,” Ms Ray said. “I’m trying every day, block by block. I can’t help everyone, but I will try.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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