How Federal Funds Can Benefit Freeway Removal Projects

The recently passed infrastructure bill dedicates $1 billion to freeway removal and capping, but the sum is only a 'first step' toward redressing the injustices perpetuated by urban highway projects.

Read Time: 2 minutes

December 16, 2021, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

New Orleans Freeway

TBaker770 / Shutterstock

Wyatt Gordon describes the Biden administration's push to use newly available infrastructure funds to rectify some of the injustices wrought by urban renewal policies and the interstate highway system that have ravaged neighborhoods and destroyed homes, businesses, and livelihoods over the last half century.

According to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, "Twenty-first century planning has to be about how any new transportation asset is integrating the surrounding areas. How do we knit it all together in a way that benefits all?" The new infrastructure bill allocates $1 billion to freeway removal and capping projects, which could prove 'transformational' if distributed effectively.

With $1.2 trillion in new spending in the bipartisan infrastructure bill on everything from Amtrak and public transit to bridge repairs and road expansions, ensuring equitable engagement surrounding such huge investments will be no easy feat.

The $1 billion dedicated to freeway removal could be a drop in the bucket compared to the nation's needs. According to Gordon, "Tearing out an expressway which decimated the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans has been estimated to cost $500 million alone." But Buttigieg characterizes that initial spending as a "first step" towards restoring and reconnecting communities.

As awareness of the damaging impacts of urban freeways grows, highway removal is quickly gaining traction as an important tool for fighting injustice, improving neighborhood connectivity, and providing economic opportunities in underserved areas. While local leaders frequently oppose freeway construction projects—see Houston's beleaguered Interstate 45 expansion as an example—federal agencies have been slow to change decades-old policies that hinder highway removal. Advocates say state and federal DOTs should rethink their 'throughput at all costs' mentality in favor of creating streets that are safe and economically vibrant.

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