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Are Roads Racist?

Some opponents of President Biden’s infrastructure plan ask incredulously, ‘are roads racist’?

“I heard some stuff, some weird stuff from the secretary of transportation trying to make this about social issues. To me, a road’s a road.”

Govenor Ron DeSantis

“The roads are racist. We must get rid of roads.”

Senator Ted Cruz

“Highways are not racist” – Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Representitve Matt Gaetz.

Urban planning can have a racist effect, intentionally or unintentionally.

Urban Planning and Segregation

Noting that past transportation systems have led to racial disparities and discrimination, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said,

“There is racism physically built into some of our highways, and that’s why the jobs plan has specifically committed to reconnect some of the communities that were divided by these dollars… this wasn’t just an act of neglect” it was a “conscious choice.”

Transportation Secretary Buttigieg

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was an infrastructure iniative that called for the construction of more than 41,000 miles of highways. The federal government paid 90% of the cost of construction with states paying the remaining 10%. It was up to state and local officials to plan where those roads would be built. The placement of infrastructure initiatives could allow cities to continue to segregate low income minority neighborhoods from white communities without enacting legally vulnerable racist zoning practices. While courts were striking down racial zoning that kept minority populations in certain communities, some highways were built on the very boundary lines that were used for racial zoning. If faced with local resistance from residents and business owners, the local government could buyout the businesses and homes through eminent domain. The practice of using highway placement as a tool to enforce segregation was not limited to the south, it also happened in the north- Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and the west- Los Angeles, Denver, St. Louis, Syracuse and Washington.

The Biden Proposal

The Biden infrastructure plan proposes a large federal investment in public transit; passenger rail, bridges; clean drinking water and waste water systems; access to high-speed internet; clean energy, EV infrastructure which will electrify school and transit buses; and create an electric Grid Deployment Authority.

The programs include:

  • Flood Mitigation Assistance Program to reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings.
  • The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to improve drinking water quality, prevent water contamination, and support water systems.
  • Lead Hazard Reduction and Healthy Homes Grants to assist in identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards.
  • The Rural Energy for America Program provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.

At least 40 percent of the overall benefits from the Federal investments in climate and clean energy will go to disadvantaged communities.

Reconnecting Communities

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has aid that the Reconnecting Communities Program will tear down or rebuild highways and overpasses that were built to segregate minority neighborhoods from white communities. Buttigieg described how an underpass could be deliberately constructed “too low” for “a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach”. “That obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t think we have anything to lose by confronting that simple reality.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-08/buttigieg-targets-racist-road-design-with-public-works-bill

https://www.npr.org/2021/04/07/984784455/a-brief-history-of-how-racism-shaped-interstate-highways

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/07/28/fact-sheet-historic-bipartisan-infrastructure-deal/

https://transloc.com/blog/when-roads-are-racist/

https://www.msnbc.com/the-reidout/reidout-blog/good-pete-buttigieg-calling-americas-racist-roads-rcna4949

https://thegrio.com/2021/04/06/pete-buttigieg-racism-us-infrastructure/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackbrewster/2021/04/12/republicans-mock-buttigieg-for-saying-highways-are-racist-but-heres-what-he-meant/?sh=42a3710e2cf5

https://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/eisenhower/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/briefing-room/2021/07/20/the-path-to-achieving-justice40/

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Wikipedia for the image.

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