Majeedah Rashid, CEO of the Nicetown CDC, has seen firsthand how a highway extension can rip through a neighborhood and create a de facto border between residents.
“Over the years we realized that it divided the community,” Rashid said. “They have that type of mentality like they’re from one part of the neighborhood and somebody else on the other side and all that kind of thing like that. It’s very divisive.”
The scenario Rashid observed has played out in cities around the country. The growth and health of communities, usually those of color, were stunted after planners built a highway right through them. Philadelphia’s Chinatown is another one of those neighborhoods, hit hard when homes and businesses were bulldozed to make way for the Vine Street Expressway, which tears through the community today.
“The noise, the pollution, and the imposing physical span of the highway are impediments to healthy neighborhoods,” John Chin, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Corporation said. “Both in the sense of the physical well-being of the people and the amenities that a neighborhood needs.”
Now federal lawmakers have decided to take some corrective action with a new $3 billion funding bill aimed at reconnecting communities.
Called the Reconnecting Communities Bill, the funding act passed as part of the $715 billion INVEST in America Act seeks to provide federal support for highway removal or capping and improvement projects.
“It’s time to put people before pavement and communities before cars,” Rep. Dwight Evans, one of the bill’s sponsors, said.
Philadelphia has already moved forward with a plan to cap a portion of I-95 between Chestnut and Walnut streets at Penn’s Landing.
Construction of the $225 million project is expected to begin this year and will include the extension of the South Street Pedestrian Bridge, plus the reconstruction and expansion of a bridge over I-95 and a portion of the Delaware River Trail. It will take at least three years to build.