US Goal of Racial Equity in Infrastructure Is Left to States – The New York Times – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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The decision about how to spend the money falls largely to state governments, raising questions about whether the package can live up to its ambition.

“Looking at where I live right now, it’s like they want to push us out farther and, well, it will gentrify the community,” said Dorothy Wiley, who opposes a proposed highway expansion near her home in Louisiana.
Credit…Emily Kask for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s $1 trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure comes with a built-in promise: No longer will roads, bridges and railways be instruments of bias or racism. Communities that ended up divided along racial lines will be made whole.

But the decision about how to spend the money falls largely to the states, not all of which are likely to put as high a priority on that promise as Mr. Biden does, raising questions about whether the legislation will deliver on his goal.

“It’s hard to have a national approach when the decisions are made state by state,” said Beth Osborne, who was an acting assistant secretary in the Transportation Department during the Obama administration. “A fundamental part of this program has always been to have the feds raise money, hand it over to the states and cross our fingers.”

The administration has said it aims to repair the damage from the United States’ history of racial disparities in how the government builds, repairs and locates physical infrastructure. In the 1950s and 1960s, highway projects often targeted Black neighborhoods, destroying cultural and economic centers and bringing decades of environmental harm. State and local officials often steered roads through Black communities, isolating them from parks or economic gain.

The task is complicated by a tangle of competing priorities. Some state and local governments might not share the Biden administration’s vision for racial equity; others might be aligned with the president politically, but would choose to spend the money differently. And the sheer size of the bill — it is the largest infusion of federal investment into infrastructure projects in more than a decade, touching nearly every facet of the American economy — makes it difficult to track every penny.

About $660 billion will be provided to the Transportation Department, the bulk of which will be directly distributed to states, who will have broad latitude in how to spend it. The package also includes about $211 billion in “discretionary grants” that require approval from the department.

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