Biden plan could aid Atlanta neighborhoods scarred by highways
David Wickert, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In the 1950s and ’60s, highway construction through the heart of Atlanta leveled homes and businesses, displacing residents and segregating Black neighborhoods from downtown and other parts of the city.
The Downtown Connector and I-20 aided the flight of whites from Atlanta and stranded many Blacks in neighborhoods decimated by the construction. It’s a pattern repeated across the country as interstate highways paid for largely with federal money bisected urban communities.
Now President Joe Biden and some Democrats in Congress want to use federal funding to remedy problems caused by that long-ago construction. Some of that money could find its way to Atlanta.
Biden wants to spend $2.3 trillion for roads, transit, broadband and other infrastructure initiatives. Tucked in amid larger pots of money is $20 billion to “reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments (in infrastructure)” and to ensure new projects advance racial and environmental justice.
U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, has sponsored a separate bill that would provide an additional $15 billion over five years to address problems caused by highway construction. The money could be used to study the removal or retrofitting of infrastructure barriers, to support transportation and economic development planning and to pay for other initiatives that Williams said could undo some of the harm caused by highway construction.
So far, no one is suggesting that will happen in Atlanta. But there are proposals to build parks over the Downtown Connector. Williams recently requested nearly $1.2 million in federal funding for one of those projects, “The Stitch,” which would cover the highway between the MARTA Civic Center station and Piedmont Road.
“I think our communities are trying to figure out how to reconnect, and have had some success,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, which proposed The Stitch. “We just need more connections.”
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