President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes addressing racial inequalities and environmental justice. One major element is $20 billion to reconnect some historically Black neighborhoods that were divided and isolated by highway construction.
That includes Tremé in New Orleans, where a highway ramp was built in the middle of a Black-owned business throughway during the 1960s.
“It just completely changed the character of that area. It means that the people that live there now have faced this huge concrete structure between them and the rest of the city, and all the pollution that then comes from having a highway right outside your window,” says Washington Post reporter Ian Duncan. “Pretty much every sizable city in the country has a road like this. When they were built, there was just so little consideration given to residents.”
It’s unclear how these funds will be used to benefit Black neighborhoods, but Duncan says the idea of relocating highways and other major construction projects has gained traction. That includes taking down infrastructure, as well as burying them underground or building bridges above them.
Duncan says the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle was one place that cut through the region’s waterfront. The city is now working to tunnel the roads underground and build parks in their stead.
He points out that these projects are expensive. A proposed highway project in Syracuse, New York is estimated to cost about $2 billion in construction expenses alone. As these projects are completed and regions become more desirable, Duncan says resident displacement could become an issue.
“If you leave that to the private property market, then there's a worry that this will lead to gentrification and displacement,” he says.