top of page

Desegregating Highways

Updated: Apr 4

Historically, the interstate highway initiative has been riddled with racism, especially attempts to segregate Black communities. The main planner behind the highways in New York City, Robert Moses, stated in 1959 that, “Our categorical imperative is action to clear the slums … we can’t let minorities dictate that this century-old chore will be put off another generation or finally abandoned.” 

In this sentiment germinated highways that barrel straight through communities, leading to the destruction of homes, businesses and landmarks. Property values in these communities fall as a result, destroying the assets of those who managed to keep their homes. 


A prime example: the destruction of “Black Wall Street,'' which has recently been rebuilt after a massacre by the Ku Klux Klan. Another was the building of I-10 in LA and Santa Monica, which led to the forced migration of Black, Latino and Japanese residents. 


Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation Secretary under the Biden administration, launched a plan to invest in the desegregation of highways around the country in January 2022.


This Reconnecting Highways plan involves an investment of $1 billion to rejoin communities that were segregated. The plan will allow cities and states to apply for federal funding for projects bent on healing the damage that was caused by the original Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. 


While many consider this a step in the right direction, others say that it will not be enough money to undo the damage the highways caused in the first place and that $1 billion won’t have a major impact spread between the 50 or so current projects that are attempting to address highway segregation. 


Whatever the case, highway redesign is a must if we truly value desegregation. Let’s invest now and reap the moral and material rewards of greater socioeconomic integration. Biden’s policy initiatives are at least directionally on target. Time will tell whether they’re enough.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Pooja Huded was an Infrastructure intern for ONC during the Summer 2022 semester. 


Sources

Dillon, Liam and Ben Poston. “The racist history of America’s interstate highway boom.” November 11, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/homeless-housing/story/2021-11-11/the-racist-history-of-americas-interstate-highway-boom


Evans, Farrell. “How Interstate Highways Gutted Communities– and enforced segregation.” October 20, 2021, https://www.history.com/news/interstate-highway-system-infrastructure-construction-segregation


King, Noel. “A Brief History of How Racism Shaped Interstate Highways.” April 7, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/04/07/984784455/a-brief-history-of-how-racism-shaped-interstate-highways.


The Associated Press. “Pete Buttigieg launches $1B pilot to build racial equity in America’s roads.” June 30, 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/06/30/1108852884/pete-buttigieg-launches-1b-pilot-to-build-racial-equity-in-americas-roads.

Comments


bottom of page