Transportation projects do a lot for America’s communities. They allow more people to travel to more places faster, using different methods than just driving. They also make driving more pleasant and accessible for everyone. However, many don’t think about how transportation projects can disconnect communities from resources, public life, and even their neighbors. The USDOT has thought about it, though, and they’re doing something about it with the Reconnecting Communities program.
The first round of Reconnecting Communities grants went out last week. 45 communities across the country, including Tucson, are getting grant funds. The USDOT chooses which communities get grants based on the plans they submit. This way, the communities themselves can lead the projects that will serve them.
The Biden-Harris Administration established this program as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Its goal is to use transportation projects to reconnect communities that previous transportation projects had separated. Communities can accomplish this through retrofits of old projects or completely new ones.
Tucson receives a $900,000 Reconnecting Communities grant.
Tucson is one of the 45 communities that will get federal funding for their project idea. The $900,000 grant will help the city build a pedestrian bridge over I-19 in Sunnyside at Nebraska Street. This bridge will help connect that community with the Santa Cruz River, better food options, schools, and medical services.
I-19 was built in the 1970s to connect Tucson with Nogales and the US-Mexico border. It’s a major corridor for car traffic, so removing or replacing the highway was not an option. However, it’s clear that the community of Sunnyside suffered from the interstate’s construction. Many characterize that community as a “food desert,” where residents struggle to find affordable, healthy food within a certain radius. This bridge aims to alleviate that concern with a connective bridge.
Tucson’s pedestrian bridge grant is on the small end of the grants the USDOT issued this go around. Buffalo, NY, for example, will get over $50 million to build a highway cap that will separate residents from a freeway. All of these grants focus on helping underprivileged communities protect their residents and reconnect them with the broader community. In doing so, the Biden-Harris Administration hopes to undo decades of thoughtless work by the USDOT. Hopefully, these grants aren’t too little, too late.