Buttigieg Promises to Undo Racist Freeway Policies

The U.S. Department of Transportation nominee acknowledged the impact the interstate highway system has had on communities of color and vowed to mitigate the damage.

January 3, 2021, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Los Angeles Freeway

Without the political capital and resources to fight freeway projects, poor communities bear the brunt of freeways' negative impacts on mobility and health. | Rafał Próchniak / Flickr

In a tweet following his statement accepting President-elect Biden's nomination for Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg promised to right the wrongs of the past, acknowledging that "Black and brown neighborhoods have been disproportionately divided by highway projects or left isolated by the lack of adequate transit." Buttigieg signaled that the Biden administration will seek to undo the damage done by prior federal policies and focus new efforts on ensuring more equitable outcomes.

The interstate highway system, one of the federal government's largest and most far-reaching transportation projects, has shaped the fate of cities with a heavy-handed, top-down approach that has isolated and displaced communities, impeded economic growth, and created public health crises in adjacent neighborhoods. Dismantling freeways is just one piece of the puzzle in undoing the damage of downtown expressways. New programs must work to restore affected communities without creating more burdens for Black and brown communities, writes Aaron Short. To achieve their goals and begin to address the decades-long structural effects of highway construction, the new administration will have to drastically shift federal funding for transportation infrastructure and ensure future policies put equity considerations first.

Urban planner Chris Sensenig, cited by Short in the source article, is optimistic that Buttigieg will deliver on his promises: "If the infrastructure bill is crafted to advance more than just the political interests of the few, we would hope that it would lead to investing in projects that further social and environmental justice issues."

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