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Historically, Many Highways Have Been Built Through Economically Disadvantaged Areas, Displacing Residents & Isolating Communities; Projects Like I-81 Reformation In Syracuse, Inner Loop in Rochester, I-33 in Buffalo, I-787 in Albany Could Receive Support Under Senators’ Plan

Senators Say The Reconnecting Communities Act Would Address The Legacy Of Highway Construction Fracturing Many Communities Of Color And Low-Income Communities

Schumer, Gillibrand: Revving Up Investment In Communities Impacted By Poorly-Placed Highways Will Bring Economic Opportunity To Cities Across Upstate NY

Following over a year of tireless advocacy for federal aid and support for hard-hit New York state amidst the COVID pandemic, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced this week the Reconnecting Communities Act, a trailblazing initiative that would provide federal investment in construction, planning, and community engagement to expand economic opportunity in New York and across the country by reconnecting and revitalizing areas that were harmed by the disruptive construction of highways through neighborhoods. The senators explained that while highways were instrumental to the connectivity of the country, they also upended many communities, especially low-income areas and communities of color, displacing residents, hurting local businesses, and impacting quality of life across neighborhoods. Schumer and Gillibrand said that it is long past due for strong federal investment into these communities negatively impacted by highways.

“In Upstate New York and across the country, highways like Syracuse’s I-81, Buffalo’s I-33, Rochester’s Inner Loop, and Albany’s I-787 have too often been built through low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, displacing residents, dividing cities, increasing pollution, and limiting economic opportunities in impacted neighborhoods,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why 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. 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.”

“Historically, the building of highways in upstate New York and across the country has disadvantaged low-income neighborhoods and communities of color by displacing residents, contributing to poor air quality, and dividing the heart of communities. This is more than a transportation issue, it is a social justice and economic issue that we must address as our nation rebuilds,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I’m proud to introduce the Reconnecting Communities Act with Majority Leader Schumer and I will work alongside him to get it passed to deliver resources to help communities from Syracuse, to Buffalo, to Rochester, to Albany and beyond, strengthen their local infrastructure.”

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. This proposal was part of a larger bill, the Economic Justice Act, a historic proposal that Senator Schumer introduced last year, along with Senator Gillibrand, to address systematic racism and historic underinvestment in communities of color in New York and across the U.S. through immediate and long-term investments.

Specifically, the Reconnecting Communities 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.

Several community and local leaders have already addressed strong support for the Reconnecting Communities Act.

"The Reconnecting Communities Act would be monumental in righting historical and societal wrongs by revitalizing disenfranchised urban communities that were decimated by the installation of freeway systems across America. I applaud Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for possessing the necessary courage and vision to address one of America's worst kept secrets. I look forward to working with both Senators to correct the wrongs here in Buffalo (Routes 33 and 198) and across New York State," stated Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, “I applaud Majority Leader Schumer and Senator Gillibrand for their work on this important legislation. The Reconnecting Communities Act will allocate needed resources to reverse decades of neglectful and discriminatory infrastructure practices. It’s designed to revitalize areas that were harmed by the construction of Highway Systems. For example, Buffalo’s Kensington Expressway divided and isolated Buffalo’s East Side, home to a large and growing African American Community. This program is a step in the right direction to removing obstacles that created barriers to mobility, equity, and negatively impacted the quality of life in cities.”

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said, “Rochester is proof that by removing old underused highways we can bridge what divided us -- both literally and figuratively. By filling in Inner Loop East we built a neighborhood. A $22 million public investment generated over $230 million in private investment, including housing, retail and an expansion of our world-class Strong National Museum of Play. Now, we look forward to the Reconnecting Communities Act helping us create this success again as we plan to fill-in Inner Loop North. I’m grateful to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their continued efforts to rebuild and reconnect our cities.”

The full text of the Reconnecting Communities Act, introduced by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, along with Senator Carper, Senator Van Hollen, Senator Cardin, Senator Padilla, Senator Coons, Senator Warnock, and Senator Markey, can be found here and the summary can be found here.