WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee (T&I), led a hearing today on “Equity in Transportation Infrastructure: Connecting Communities, Removing Barriers, and Repairing Networks across America.” This is the first hearing of the T&I subcommittee since Senator Cardin was named chair. The purpose of this hearing is to recognize that we have work to do address long-standing inequity in transportation infrastructure, and to acknowledge the legacy of past decisions that have caused lasting harm to disadvantaged communities, especially communities of color.
Chair Cardin’s opening remarks follow:
“This is our first hearing for the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee hearing of this Congress. I want to thank Senator Carper and Senator Capito, our chair and ranking member of the full committee, for their support of the subcommittee and the work that we are doing and allowing us to conduct this hearing today.
“I want to thank Senator Cramer and his staff for helping us put together today’s hearing. I look forward to working with Senator Cramer and other members of the subcommittee as we take on the important work of this Congress in regards to infrastructure. We will have a unique opportunity to act on a five- or six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill. That allows us to take up not only the funding levels but also many of the issues concerning infrastructure in America.
“We can talk about many issues from multimodal capacities to adequate maintenance to adaptation and climate issues. There certainly is a lot of issues that need to be talked about as we look at the reauthorization bill.
“Today’s hearing will deal with Equity in Transportation Infrastructure: Connecting Communities, Removing Barriers, and Repairing Networks across America. This is obviously an important subject and one that I welcome today’s witnesses to help us in this discussion.
“The building of our national highway system from the 1950s was, in many ways, a great, national achievement—a major public investment in our infrastructure that transformed our country and that we continue to rely on today. But for far too many communities, especially communities of color, ethnic communities and urban centers, the construction of our highways had traumatic and destructive impacts. Rather than connecting their communities and expanding their opportunities, highway construction brought demolition, displacement, isolation, and exclusion.
“The siting of highways was sometimes done under the banner of seemingly-noble goals of ‘urban renewal’ and removing of blight. But sometimes also with overtly racists intentions of cutting off and segregating. In reality, it destroyed thriving communities, homes, and businesses, and tore apart social networks. These highway projects often made it more difficult for people in these communities to establish stable, livelihoods, achieve personal and economic progress, and build wealth in the decades that followed.
“The City of Baltimore is intimately familiar with this painful history of highway planning and highway building. It has experienced it firsthand. It lives with this legacy today. African Americans in Baltimore were disproportionately affected – between 1951 and 1964, about 90 percent of all housing displacements occurred in Baltimore’s Black neighborhoods.
“There were many plans for numerous highways to be built in Baltimore City. The City would have lost some of the neighborhoods that are now cherished and integral part of our City. The Inner Harbor would have been devastated by a giant highway interchange.
“All of this would have happened to a much greater extent if not for coalitions of advocates who raised their voices in opposition to these plans.
“Among those voices was my friend and former Senate colleague Barbara Mikulski, who is known to have entered into politics through the fight over highways through her involvement in the Movement Against Destruction. These advocates and community leaders were able to save 28,000 housing units from demolition, mostly in minority and ethnic communities – Baltimore’s strength. But they were not able to save all neighborhoods from the bulldozers. Part of the highway plan for Baltimore was to have an east-west corridor connecting I-70 coming in from the West to downtown Baltimore. It was meant to facilitate commuting by car from the suburbs, and, in the eyes of some like Robert Moses, to clear out what they saw at as slums.
“This east-west highway was never completed, but it still did damage, and African Americans were disproportionately impacted, with 3,000 residents, mostly Black, uprooted in the late 1960s to make way for this highway that was never completed. Today, this ‘highway to nowhere’ is a barrier and an impediment—a source of pollution, not convenience. Occupying a 30-foot trench, this massive roadway in the Franklin-Mulberry corridor in West Baltimore separates and isolates neighborhoods such as Harlem Park from other parts of the city. This is the legacy of our infrastructure that is felt in cities across the country, and that we must now reckon with today.
“By removing barriers that are no longer useful, we can help reconnect communities to opportunities, improve their health and safety, and make daily life better.
“I am proud to join Senator Carper, our chair, in sponsoring the Reconnecting Communities Act, a bill that would establish a federal program to support the planning and implementation of projects to remove infrastructure barriers – such as the Franklin-Mulberry Corridor in Baltimore City. Barriers that have clearly outlived their usefulness, but remain a burden on our neighborhoods.
“Let me quote from my former colleague and dear friend, the late Congressman John Lewis when he told us, ‘The legacy of Jim Crow transportation is still with us. Even today, some of our transportation policies and practices destroy stable neighborhoods, isolate and segregate our citizens in deteriorating neighborhoods, and fail to provide access to jobs and economic growth centers.’
“A report in The New York Times last year highlighted how the urban heat island effect – the thing that can make an unbearably hot day even worse – disproportionately impacts communities that were ‘redlined’. These communities can be 5 to 12 degrees hotter on hot summer days than areas in the same city that enjoyed more favorable housing policies.
“The article describes a mother with two young kids trekking more than a mile on foot just to get to a park with some shade.
“For too many Americans, transportation infrastructure has created stressful, unsafe, and unhealthy conditions, and that is why we must build back better.
“We also see inequity in the data that suggest that communities of color disproportionately bear the burden of pollution and health and safety risks from transportation. In the most recent ‘Dangerous by Design’ report, Smart Growth America found that, between 2010 and 2019, ‘Black people were struck and killed by drivers at an 82 percent higher rate than White, non-Hispanic Americans.’
“We know that investing in transit is a key part of addressing inequity in transportation, and in Maryland we have a lot of work to do to expand and upgrade our transit system. But our roads and streets and related safety policies also play a critical role. And because this Committee has specific jurisdiction over our highway program, our focus today is how we can improve this area of our transportation policy to address equity.
“I am proud to author the Transportation Alternatives Program, a critical component of our surface transportation programs. This program ensures that a segment of federal transportation funding supports the priorities of local communities for carrying out projects such as bike lanes, pedestrian infrastructure, and safety improvements.
“TAP funds were used in Baltimore in regards to the Leakin pathway that connects communities that were not connected together so that people can really enjoy their neighborhoods.
“We need to do more to build on the Transportation Alternatives Program and give more opportunities for cities and local communities to guide resources to the needs that they have.
“I applaud President Biden for making transportation equity a centerpiece of the American Jobs Plan for investing in our nation’s infrastructure. This plan calls for us to address our legacy of past infrastructure projects, and it recognizes that we have work to do to remove barriers in order to rebuild, reconnect, and repair communities. It also calls for 40 percent of the benefits of our climate and clean infrastructure investments to go to disadvantaged communities.
“In addition, he signed on January 20, an ‘Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government.’ This Executive Order calls on federal agencies to ‘assess whether underserved communities and their members face systemic barriers in accessing benefits and opportunities available pursuant to those policies and programs.’ This is a crucial step for transportation.
“Poor transportation infrastructure has limited the opportunities for disadvantaged communities, creating and perpetuating inequity, contributing to poverty, poor health, low employment, and poor or insufficient housing. In contrast, good transportation infrastructure provides an opportunity to enhance the lives of many and to help sustain their communities — that should be our goal as we look at the transportation reauthorization.”