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Detroit Wins Grant From Biden Administration to Remove Interstate That Ruined Black Communities

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The city of Detroit recently won a grant from the Biden administration dedicated to removing Interstate 375, a highway that permanently affected two once bustling Black communities. 

Announced on Thursday by the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, in a news conference near the highway, the grant, which totals nearly $105 million, will go towards filling in the already run-down I-375, covering a little more than a third of the $270 million project. 

The removal of the highway is the first step in the city’s plan for the site. With help from the new grant, plans are being made to build a boulevard in hopes of rebuilding the community that was destroyed in favor of the highway, according to officials. 

In 1964, the I-375 was created between the then-new Interstate 75 and the Detroit River, wiping out the predominantly Black communities of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley. Once considered hubs for entertainment during the Jazz Age and home to many Black-owned businesses, the areas were permanently damaged as the building of the I-375 and other urban projects displaced over 100,000 people living in Black Bottom and Paradise Valley.

“We have seen examples in many communities, including here, where an infrastructure decision serves to divide and we raise this issue not to wallow in it but to challenge ourselves to do something about it,” Buttigieg said at the press conference per The Washington Post. “And now we are putting our money where our mouth is.”

The grant for the removal of I-375 comes as part of an infrastructure program created by the Biden-Harris administration. Known as Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, the program, which was announced on Thursday, will award $1.5 billion through 26 grants, including the one going to Detroit for the highway. 

With the grants, they’ll be funding projects throughout the U.S. that are focused on a variety of issues such as wildlife projects and railroad rehabilitation projects. 

Through their financial aid to Detroit, the Biden-Harris administration is also fulfilling its promise to help erase any racial inequities that arise from infrastructure. Known as the Reconnecting Communities Pilot, the program will distribute $1 billion over the next half a decade to communities that were denied economic opportunities because of disadvantages created by infrastructure. 

Throughout the years, since the first inklings of the interstate highway system were set into place after the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, many Black and Brown communities were disproportionately targeted despite having successful communities. In Miami, Overtown, once considered “the Harlem of the South” and a place for artists like Sammy Davis Jr. and Billie Holiday to visit, was permanently changed by the creation of Interstate 95 with residents being handed notices telling them that they needed to leave the area just two months prior to building.

In Alabama, the construction of Interstate 65 caused thousands of families to lose their homes; according to the Montgomery Advertiser, about 75 percent of these people impacted were Black.

“These highways, roads, and railways are not rivers, lakes, or mountains, they’re not divinely ordained,” said Buttigieg in a statement on the launch of the Reconnecting Communities program earlier this year. “They’re decisions. And we can make better decisions than what came before.” 

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