Congresswoman Nikema Williams Secures House Passage of Her Reconnecting Neighborhoods Program
WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05) voted to pass the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act. Included in the INVEST in America Act is a key provision based on legislation authored by Congresswoman Williams: the Reconnecting Neighborhoods Program.
The Reconnecting Neighborhoods Program will invest in the redesign or removal of highway infrastructure built through communities of color after the enactment of the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act. Congresswoman Williams was instrumental in advancing the program from the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to the House floor, including by passing an amendment during the Committee’s June markup to ensure the program emphasizes equity and fosters community engagement in projects.
This week, Congresswoman Williams worked to further strengthen the program, authoring additional amendments with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Ritchie Torres (NY-15). Both amendments passed in the House.
“The Reconnecting Neighborhoods and Strengthening Communities Act isa long overdue matter of racial justice,” said Congresswoman Williams. “The 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act built highways through the middle of cities, at times to intentionally displace Black families. This left economic devastation that still exists. Two examples of these disenfranchising projects are in the Fifth District: the Sweet Auburn and Summerhill communities were both divided by the construction of the Downtown Connector and I-20. Sweet Auburn was a bustling business corridor split up by the interstate. There is a direct line between the decision on where to build the highway and today’s racial wealth gap. Congress has a responsibility to undo the harm of these decisions. The program’s inclusion in the INVEST in America Act will help us reckon with our past and uplift impacted communities.”
"The Cross Bronx Expressway, located in my district in the South Bronx, is both literally and figuratively a structure of environmental racism whose dismantling is long overdue,” said Representative Torres. “It has contributed to poor health outcomes and devastated low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. That is why Congresswoman Williams and I are fighting to ensure that highways, like the Cross Bronx, are eligible for inclusion in the Reconnecting Neighborhoods program. Our amendment makes it clear that infrastructure funding can be spent on projects that will reimagine highways that historically have divided neighborhoods. We are proud to see this amendment included as part of the INVEST Act, and will work with our partners in the Senate to get it over the finish line."
The Reconnecting Neighborhoods Program enjoys strong support in the Fifth District.
"We applaud Congresswoman Williams’ leadership to deliver the Reconnecting Neighborhoods Program," said A.J. Robinson, President of Central Atlanta Progress. "Funding from the program will be instrumental in advancing the Stitch project in Downtown Atlanta, which will cap Interstates 75 and 85 with new parks, safe streets, and transit access that will directly benefit the quality of life for surrounding communities."
The Reconnecting Neighborhoods Program is supported by many of the country’s leading smart-transit organizations.
"For decades, we've spent billions of dollars on highway projects that displaced and divided communities of color, and this year we have an opportunity to start righting these historical wrongs," said Josh Freed, Senior Vice President for the Climate and Energy Program at Third Way. "Third Way applauds Congresswoman Williams for championing this issue and fighting to get critical funding for urban freeway removal included in the INVEST in America Act. We look forward to working with her and with the Biden-Harris Administration to ensure communities hurt by urban freeways get the assistance they need and deserve as part of the upcoming infrastructure package."
"The passage of the INVEST in America Act of 2021 is a step in reimagining the role of transportation infrastructure," said Beth Osborne, Director of Transportation for America. "Representative Williams' leadership in getting the Reconnecting Neighborhoods and Strengthening Communities Act included and passed in this landmark legislation was critical. Restoring, rebuilding and reinvesting in Black and brown communities that have been divided and displaced for over 65 years by our nation's highway system is an incredible victory."
Also included in the INVEST Act are Congresswoman Williams’ six Member Designated Transportation Projects that will bring nearly $15 million to the Fifth District and a legislative provision based on the Water Infrastructure Sustainability and Efficiency (WISE) Act, a bill that was introduced by Congresswoman Williams in May. The WISE Act permanently guarantees funding for environmentally friendly clean water infrastructure projects.