WASHINGTON (WROC) — A new federal bill was announced that would help reconnect areas affected by highway construction. This would include the area around Interstate 787 on Albany’s east side.
Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Reconnecting Communities Act which would “provide federal investment in construction, planning and community engagement by reconnecting and revitalizing areas that were harmed by the construction of highways through neighborhoods.”
Schumer and Gillibrand say that in areas of Upstate New York, specifically neighborhoods near Albany’s I-787, Syracuse’s I-81, Buffalo’s I-33, and Rochester’s Inner Loop, highways were built through low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, displacing residents, dividing cities, increasing pollution, and limiting economic opportunities in impacted neighborhoods.
“I am proud to announce the Reconnecting Communities Act – a key part of my Economic Justice Act – to help right these wrongs by identifying and removing these hulking physical barriers to mobility and opportunity,” Schumer added. “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.”
Specifically, the act would provide $15 billion over five years for three categories of grants:
- Community Engagement, Education, and Capacity Building Grants: These grants would fund efforts to educate community members, build community capacity, identify local needs, form community boards, and engage community members in transportation planning. Funds would expand the ability of community members to participate in transportation and economic development decision-making to ensure investments address community needs. Local and Tribal governments, MPOs, and nonprofit organizations would be eligible recipients of community engagement, education, and capacity building grants.
- Planning and Feasibility Grants: These grants would fund state and local planning activities to design projects and study traffic, access, and equity impacts, assess the project feasibility, conduct public engagement and environmental review, and establish a community land trust to develop real estate created by the project. State, local, Tribal governments, MPOs, and nonprofit organizations would be eligible recipients of planning and feasibility grants.
- Capital Construction Grants: These grants would fund construction activities to remove or retrofit an infrastructural barrier in a way that enhances community connectivity, including by capping or replacing it with an at-grade roadway; improving connectivity across a barrier; replacing the facility with a new use like a public park or trail; and other projects that would address the mobility needs of the community. Grants would go to the owner of the infrastructure asset, with whom State, local, Tribal government, MPOs, and nonprofit organizations could partner to be eligible recipients of capital construction grants.
Officials say the Reconnecting Communities Act would establish a grant program at the Department of Transportation to help communities identify and remove or retrofit highway infrastructure that creates obstacles to mobility and opportunity.