To the members of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework working group, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:

On behalf of a nationwide coalition of campaigns seeking to reimagine freeway corridors in American cities, we call on our leaders in Congress to support the proposed Reconnecting Communities program included in the current Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework; expand funding for the program; and to create additional guidelines, outlined below, to facilitate community participation within the program and to prevent displacement caused by program-related projects.

We are thrilled that with the Reconnecting Communities program Congress has recognized and signaled interest in addressing the historic injustices that highways have caused, especially to communities of color. However, funding the program at 1/20th of its original proposed budget would greatly reduce this opportunity to reconnect and heal communities divided by interstate highways and other infrastructure. Many freeway capping and highway-to-boulevard projects have already entered into feasibility studies, a large number of which individually are estimated to cost more than the program’s current $1 billion budget. Without additional funding, the program will either fail to adequately fund even one full project from planning to implementation, or will grant many communities the opportunity to reimagine their neighborhoods without providing any follow-through in the form of dedicated capital construction funds.

We call for additional guidelines within the Reconnecting Communities program that ensure it puts the people living around highways first. State departments of transportation have lost the trust of many of the communities this program would assist, and for good reason. While state DOTs are important partners in these endeavors, they continue to build and expand the highways that have divided communities. Any bill that channels money exclusively to these agencies will not meaningfully change the status quo. Instead, we ask that the program fund community engagement and capacity building that local, community-based nonprofits and organizations are eligible to apply for. Organizations like these are already working with residents on a volunteer basis and have the power to build consensus around these projects to advance a community vision. All they need is funding.

When it comes to implementing Reconnecting Communities projects, we recognize the potential economic benefits infrastructure investment of this scale can generate. We hope to see strong guidelines that steer those economic benefits to the residents who have been harmed by the existence of the infrastructure barriers. This starts with requiring capital construction grantees to enact anti-displacement protections that will keep residents in place once a highway is removed or covered. Studies have shown projects that remove infrastructure barriers can also increase the potential for the displacement of long standing residents, who find themselves priced out of their communities. Without anti-displacement protections, the Reconnecting Communities program threatens to harm the communities it is meant to help. The Reconnecting Communities program should also prioritize contracting design and construction businesses that are based in the project area, to further increase local economic benefits.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework also comes with a historic investment in highway building. We hope that there will be guidelines in place on this spending to ensure maintenance is prioritized over expansion or building new roads that will further divide communities. Without proper guidance, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will replicate the very problems that the Reconnecting Communities program seeks to address, undermining the concepts of equity, sustainability, and community described by the Secretary of Transportation and backed by the White House.

With these priorities in mind, we hope to see an expanded Reconnecting Communities program in the final Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, one that increases funding and roots the program in community priorities. The existing Reconnecting Communities Act in the Senate (S.1202) and Restoring Neighborhoods and Strengthening Communities Act in the House (H.R. 2859) provide examples of a framework that we would gladly support. We urge you to enact the policies contained within these two pieces of legislation, either by passing them individually or by incorporating them in the Reconnecting Communities program of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework.

Thank you for your leadership.

Jordan van der Hagen

Supported by over 90 organizations

City of OaklandOakland, California
Transportation for AmericaWashington, D.C.
Duluth Waterfront CollectiveDuluth, Minnesota
Sierra ClubWashington, D.C.
Congress for the New UrbanismWashington, D.C.
Freeways for the People El Paso, Texas
Bridge Forward CincinnatiCincinnati, Ohio
Transform Tulsa AllianceTulsa, Oklahoma
#blvdtampaTampa, Florida
Congress for the New Urbanism, Michigan ChapterGrand Rapids, Michigan
Durham Freeways to Boulevards Justice ProjectDurham, North Carolina
Milwaukee Transit Riders UnionMilwaukee, Wisconsin
Ridgeview HOAAustin, Texas
Treme Market Branch LLCNew Orleans, Louisiana
PRT Planning + Design LLCIndianapolis, Indiana
Map LabsCharleston, South Carolina
South Windmill Run Neighborhood AssociationAustin, Texas
Civic By DesignCharlotte, North Carolina
Sierra Club, Austin GroupAustin, Texas
Third WayWashington, D.C.
America WalksAnnandale, Virginia
PlacemakingUSBeverly Hills, California
Culture HouseSomerville, Massachusetts
Acadian Group of the Sierra ClubLafayette, Louisiana
Mueller Neighborhood AssociationAustin, Texas
Bike HoustonHouston, Texas
Transit MattersBoston, Massachusetts
Parking Reform NetworkPortland, Oregon
GreeningUSALiverpool, New York
Civitas.designErie, Pennsylvania
Placemaking StudioRaleigh, North Carolina
Fix290Austin, Texas
Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT)Chicago, Illinois
Shared-Use Mobility CenterChicago, Illinois
Transportation Choices CoalitionSeattle, Washington
Downtown Council of Kansas CityKansas City, Missouri
Sunrise WorcesterWorcester, Massachusetts
Transportation for MassachusettsBoston, Massachusetts
Business for a Better PortlandPortland, Oregon
Catholic Social ActionPittsburgh, Pennsylvania
OakHillNeighborsAustin, Texas
Congress For The New Urbanism, New York State ChapterNew York, New York
Congress For The New Urbanism, IllinoisChicago, Illinois
Claiborne Avenue AllianceNew Orleans, Louisiana
1000 Friends of WisconsinMadison, Wisconsin
Restore Our Community CoalitionBuffalo, New York
Farm&CityAustin, Texas
Save Oak HillAustin, Texas
Save Our Springs Alliance Austin, Texas
Montford Neighborhood AssociationAsheville, North Carolina
University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of DesignPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
Congress For The New Urbanism, FloridaWinter Park, Florida
Stop TxDOT I-45Houston, Texas
Lid I-5Seattle, Washington
Walk AustinAustin, Texas
Bridgewright PartnersSeattle, Washington
We Walk in DuluthDuluth, Minnesota
ConnectOakland.orgOakland, California
Connect Urban ErieErie, Pennsylvania
Allendale StrongShreveport, Louisiana
Disability Mobility Project, Disability Rights WAWashington State
Move RedmondRedmond, Washington
No More FreewaysPortland, Oregon
Air Alliance HoustonHouston, Texas
Reconnect AustinAustin, Texas
Rethink35Austin, Texas
Milwaukee RiverkeeperMilwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Transit Riders AllianceMadison, Wisconsin
Transit Riders of the US TogetherNationwide
La Crosse Area Transit AdvocatesLa Crosse, Wisconsin
Cultivate South ParkSeattle, Washington
Urban3Asheville, North Carolina
Wisconsin Faith Voices for JusticeMadison, Wisconsin
8664.orgLouisville, Kentucky
Albany Riverfront CollaborativeAlbany, New York
Ride ReportPortland, Oregon
Detroit Greenways CoalitionDetroit, Michigan
LINK HoustonHouston, Texas
Scajaquada Corridor CoalitionBuffalo, New York
Bike AustinAustin, Texas
Velo Paso Bicycle-Pedestrian CoalitionEl Paso, Texas
Hinge Neighbors, Inc.Rochester, New York
Place InitiativePortland, Oregon
Law Office of Dennis M. GrzezinskiMilwaukee, Wisconsin
Save Barton Creek AssociationAustin, Texas
Zeitgeist Center for Arts & CommunityDuluth, Minnesota
Buffalo Olmsted Parks ConservancyBuffalo, New York
Seattle Parks FoundationSeattle, Washington
Congress For The New Urbanism, Central TexasAustin, Texas
A Better CityBoston, Massachusetts
Our Streets MinneapolisMinneapolis, Minnesota