What Will Highway Removal Funding Actually Fund?

The federal Reconnecting Communities program is aimed at supporting highway removal and reversing the damage caused by rampant freeway construction, but some watered down proposals from state agencies could fund road expansion instead.

2 minute read

December 16, 2022, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Concrete highway overpasses under construction, view from below

Lev Kropotov / Freeway construction

Competing proposals from lawmakers and state departments of transportation raise questions about how the Biden administration will approach evaluating applications for the Reconnecting Communities Act, which promises $1 billion in federal funding for freeway removal projects. 

Writing in Route Fifty, Daniel C. Vock outlines two high-profile examples of cities where activists have been pushing for highway removals, including the infamous Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans. “The story of the Claiborne Expressway is so poignant that the Biden administration referenced it when the president unveiled the idea for Reconnecting Communities,” Vock writes. Yet some transportation officials are backing off removal proposals, expressing concern about the cost of removing freeways, which, in some cases, would surpass the federal funding available. As Vock explains, “The Reconnecting Communities program was cut from $20 billion in Biden’s original proposal to $1 billion in the five-year infrastructure law.”

In some cases, state DOTs want to make aesthetic improvements to existing highways or mitigate the damage of further road expansion with freeway caps and other amenities rather than commit to full highway removal. The Louisiana Department of Transportation has submitted an application for “a $95 million plan that includes the removal of up to four ramps, neighborhood enhancements and expressway improvements,” citing concerns about not only cost, but also the impact of removing the viaduct on local freight and the geo-technical considerations involved in tunneling in the Louisiana soil.

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