State allocates $3 billion for infrastructure projects that reconnect & revitalize minority neighborhoods damaged by urban planners

On January 22, 2022, it was announced that the State of New York’s proposed $32.8 billion State Capital Plan includes nearly $3 billion for infrastructure renewal projects that reconnect and revitalize minority and other low-income communities that were fragmented and devitalized by racist urban planning practices of the past. Readers of the 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity (repurpose, renew, reconnect) will remember that reconnecting is the vital third step of the 3Re Strategy (the single most successful revitalization strategy on the planet.

Reconnecting neighborhoods that were severed by asphalt highways is a cornerstone of our bold infrastructure vision for a better New York,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said. “Better infrastructure means better quality of life, and the communities around the Kensington Expressway in Buffalo and across our state deserve nothing less. These projects will help right the wrongs of the past through safer and reliable transit networks, landscapes designed to bring communities together, and routes that are friendlier for pedestrians and bikers.

These projects will be designed to promote equity, connectivity and multi-modal transportation opportunities for communities all across New York State. These unprecedented and targeted investments represent a generational opportunity to reunite neighborhoods, promote economic growth and revitalize many of New York’s most important urban centers.

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said, “I thank Governor Hochul for jump-starting the process to reconnect the neighborhoods which were severed by construction of the Kensington Expressway. This is a milestone moment in our long-standing efforts to create one inclusive and equitable City of Buffalo. Physically linking these communities back together again will bring tremendous socio-economic, visual, social, and emotional benefits for generations to come.

The Governor highlighted these investments in Buffalo, at an event near the Kensington Expressway, the construction of which removed the historic Olmsted-designed Humboldt Parkway and divided the surrounding neighborhoods with the construction of a below-grade expressway.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said, “Many highway projects across New York State and the nation have cut through the heart of communities of color, tearing apart neighborhoods, displacing residents, and stalling economic development. This historic investment will begin the process of reversing those injustices. I applaud Governor Hochul’s work and will keep fighting at the federal level to get New York the resources it needs to invest in infrastructure that brings communities together and revitalizes our cities. We must continue to fight for an equitable environmental and economic recovery for communities who have been historically left out.

The State’s Capital Plan includes these projects:

Revitalizing the South Bronx by Reconstructing the Bruckner-Sheridan Interchange at Hunts Point:
This project, currently under construction by NYSDOT, will transform neighborhoods in the South Bronx by correcting the planning mistakes of the past, protecting health, and enhancing safety. The construction of the new highway interchange, entrance, and exit ramps, along with the rehabilitation of the Bruckner Viaduct, will reduce commercial truck traffic in local residential areas; improve mobility, operations, and safety; and help mitigate poor air quality in the South Bronx, one of the communities with the highest asthma rates in the nation. The project will also install new or upgraded Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) curbs, medians, sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic signal improvements; and construct a new 1.5-mile shared-use path, providing a connection to the 138th Street bike path heading to Randall’s Island, Manhattan, and Bronx River Greenway.

Converting the Existing Inner Loop North Freeway into a Community Boulevard in the City of Rochester:
The Inner Loop North project will complete the removal of the Inner Loop freeway in the City of Rochester, building upon the successful completion of the Inner Loop East project in 2017. The new Inner Loop North raising project will fully reconnect severed communities within downtown Rochester; provide direct links to the Genesee River and the High Falls District; connect and expand upon the investments from the ROC the Riverway program; promote multi-modal connectivity; create new world-class green spaces; and facilitate opportunities for economic development, including new infill development.

Commencing Construction of the I-81 Community Grid Project in Syracuse:
The Interstate 81 project area serves as an essential travel corridor for the Central New York Region, especially the downtown Syracuse area. Removal of the existing elevated structure and construction of the new Community Grid demonstrates Governor Hochul’s commitment to enhance equity and economic opportunity for neighborhoods that have been left behind by the construction of the interstate highway system. The project would also construct new greenspace and provide safe pedestrian and bicycle access for users of all ages and abilities within the downtown core.

Covering Portions of the Cross-Bronx Expressway to Reconnect Neighborhoods and Increase Open Space:
The Cross-Bronx Expressway has divided communities in the Bronx since its construction in 1948. As a major commercial shipping corridor, the expressway brings 175,000 trucks a day into this area, harming air quality for more than 250,000 residents in the adjacent vicinity. The long-awaited effort to build a park over the Cross-Bronx Expressway would reconnect communities severed by construction of the viaduct, create new open public spaces, enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety, improve safety along local streets, and reduce current adverse impacts of noise pollution, air pollution, and heat pollution. Governor Hochul is personally committed to partnering with the City of New York to study the feasibility of decking sections of the Expressway to achieve these goals. This action represents an important step toward removing physical and economic barriers to residents of the Bronx.

Senator Chuck Schumer said, “In New York and across the country, highways like the Cross Bronx Expressway, Syracuse’s I-81, Buffalo’s Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways, and Rochester’s Inner Loop have too often been built through low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, dividing cities, limiting investment for the people most in need, and devastating community health with concentrated air pollutants from vehicles traveling. Infrastructure should build up communities, not divide them. That is why I made it a priority to create a new federal Reconnecting Communities program as part of the bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs law that I negotiated to provide dedicated funding to critical projects like these. I am proud to have also delivered billions of dollars in federal funds through the infrastructure and jobs bill that will be essential to move forward these efforts to revitalize communities across the state that have been neglected for far too long.

As part of the announcement in Buffalo, Governor Hochul also announced that the New York Department of Transportation will commence an environmental review to assess alternatives for reconnecting and restoring the east-west neighborhoods in the City of Buffalo that were divided by the construction of the Kensington Expressway more than six decades ago.

The federally-required review will examine the environmental, community, economic and other impacts associated with a partial or full cover of the current Expressway, with the goal of achieving a preferred alternative. The State Department of Transportation will work aggressively with the Federal Highway Administration to streamline the environmental review process. As part of the state’s commitment to transparency and engaging the community, the public scoping process will begin this spring with a preliminary scoping report to be completed later this summer.

Representative Joe Morelle said, “This is a transformational investment that will unite downtown Rochester and strengthen our urban core at a time when it’s needed most as we recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This reconnection will help us correct the mistakes of previous generations that have served only to further marginalize underserved communities. Completion of the Inner Loop North project has long been a major priority for me, and I’m grateful to Governor Hochul for its inclusion. I look forward to working together to build a more equitable and inclusive future for the City of Rochester.

Constructed during the 1950s and 1960s, the Kensington Expressway replaced what had been a grand, tree-lined boulevard – the historic Humboldt Parkway designed by Frederick Law Olmsted – with a below-grade highway that severed the connection between the surrounding neighborhoods. The original boulevard connected Humboldt Park (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Park) with Delaware Park.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said, “Repairing the infrastructure mistakes of the past is a big step towards re-connecting communities and improving our overall quality of life. Governor Hochul’s proposed State Capital Plan will examine the impacts and the future of the Kensington Expressway in Buffalo, seeking a way to restore connectivity to the historic Humboldt Parkway neighborhood, facilitating non-vehicular traffic and bringing people together. I thank Governor Hochul for her vision and willingness to take on these important projects, which hopefully will lead to restoration of communities across our great state.”

The review, being advanced by the Department of Transportation, will assess opportunities to create new open public spaces, enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety, and reduce current adverse impacts of noise and air pollution. The review will also assess enhancements to the local roadways to facilitate safe vehicle operations within reconnected neighborhoods. Project boundaries include the eastern limit of East Ferry Street and western limit at Best Street. The expressway carries about 80,000 cars per day.

State Senator Sean Ryan said, “The construction of the Kensington Expressway through the heart of Buffalo’s East Side divided neighborhoods and isolated residents, causing lasting damage to the community which persists more than 50 years later. As work to transform the Scajaquada Corridor moves forward, I am excited to celebrate today’s announcement about the future of the Kensington Expressway. These highways scarred our landscape and destroyed the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted. Restoring Delaware Park and the Humboldt Parkway and reconnecting our neighborhoods will be a historic victory for Buffalo. I thank Governor Hochul for recognizing the importance of reconnecting our communities, and for taking advantage of this rare opportunity to make changes that will improve the lives of Buffalonians for generations to come.

The State Department of Transportation is committed to working collaboratively with the City of Buffalo, the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council and the neighboring communities at every juncture as this important project advances.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “Covering the Route 33 is a unique opportunity to address the generational harm done by the Kensington Expressway when it tore into and severed the Martin Luther King and Hamlin Park neighborhoods. Daily traffic of 70,000 cars has negatively impacted residents’ health and lowered property values. Restoring these communities is a matter of racial justice, quality of life, environmental health, and community development while also addressing the Kensington Expressway’s infrastructure needs. This would be a significant step towards reunifying neighborhoods and healing decades-old wounds. I applaud and appreciate Governor Hochul’s leadership and support in joining our 15-year effort in addressing the Kensington Expressway/ROCC project.

The highway expansions of the post-World War II era ripped through communities of color across the country, tearing apart the fabric of these neighborhoods in ways that still need repairing today. People lost their homes and their businesses; social connections were replaced by speeding cars and vehicle emissions. New York State was not immune to this destructive path, which hit low-income and minority communities disproportionately hard, from the Bronx downstate to Buffalo and Syracuse upstate, and many places in between.

Representative Brian Higgins said, “It is said that the built environment is not neutral, it either serves to hurt or to heal. Transportation decisions of the past devastated acres of Olmsted parkland and tore apart neighborhoods. Thanks to the vision and leadership of Governor Kathy Hochul, those days are over. Working together we are committed to meet the moral imperative before us to fix historical wrongs and make the infrastructure investments that serve to unite and strengthen communities.

Governor Hochul says she is committed to repairing the damage of transportation mistakes from decades ago. Instead of loud, polluting highways, these projects will prioritize walking, cycling, active streets, and green spaces designed to tie together communities and small businesses. New York must use its infrastructure opportunities of today to revitalize communities torn apart by infrastructure decisions of the past.

Photo of Kensington Expressway in Buffalo (prior to redevelopment) courtesy of City of Buffalo.

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