Following a year of tireless advocacy for federal aid and support for hard-hit New York state amidst the COVID pandemic, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today visited the Inner Loop North in Rochester to push for the Reconnecting Communities Act and to make permanent an expansion of the local hire pilot program as part of the American Jobs Plan, which would help kick-start the process of removing and reforming the northern portion of the Inner Loop.
“Highways like Rochester’s Inner Loop have too often been built through low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, displacing residents, dividing cities, increasing pollution, and limiting economic opportunities in impacted neighborhoods,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I’m working with Senator Gillibrand to put it on the feds’ radar that the Inner Loop is a sunken moat-like, physical barrier to mobility for impacted communities and how with federal funding, the Inner Loop North can be transformed into a project to bring economic opportunity to Rochester, restore neighborhoods for local residents, and connect local workers to good-paying jobs. I’m proud to support the Reconnecting Communities Act and a permanent local hire program, central proposals of my Economic Justice Act introduced last year, to provide critical investment to Rochester to reform the Inner Loop North while bringing together labor and community leaders to connect local residents, especially disadvantaged workers, to high-quality construction jobs.”
“When Rochester’s Inner Loop was built, it caused increased traffic levels, dangerous levels of pollution and the shuttering of local businesses. Similar stories played out in communities of color across New York and the country—highways cut through cities, destroyed neighborhoods and displaced more than a million people,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Now, we have the chance the help right the wrongs of the past. I’m proud to work with Senator Schumer to push for federal legislation that will rebuild and reconnect communities, boost the local economy, hire and train local talent, and lay the foundation for a brighter, more equitable future.”
Today’s effort continues the senators’ long commitment to revitalizing Rochester. Schumer and Gillibrand were instrumental in securing a $16.5 million TIGER grant to fill in the eastern portion of the Inner Loop, which created significant new job-creating economic development opportunities in the area with the creation of six acres of new shovel-ready development sites, including space for new affordable housing units, retail, office space, and the expansion of the Strong Museum of Play. More than $230 million in private investment followed the roughly $25 million cost to fill in the Inner Loop East. The senators argue that filling in the larger Inner Loop North will lead to even larger economic opportunity for Rochester’s most impacted neighborhoods.
Schumer led the push to fill in Inner Loop East since 2011, successfully calling on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to invest million in federal funds to make the project possible. Schumer made in-person appeals about the project to two different Secretaries of Transportation and is now pushing current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to invest in a potential Inner Loop North project.
The infrastructure bill that is part of the American Jobs Plan includes the Reconnecting Communities Act, a trailblazing initiative that would provide federal investment in construction, planning, and community engagement to expand economic opportunity in New York and across the country by reconnecting and revitalizing areas that were harmed by the disruptive construction of highways through neighborhoods. The senators explained that while highways like the Inner Loop were intended to boost connectivity, they also upended many communities, especially low-income areas and communities of color, displacing residents, hurting local businesses, and impacting quality of life across neighborhoods. Schumer and Gillibrand said it is time for federal investment into reforming the Inner Loop North, which would reinvigorate communities like Marketview Heights, Lewis Street, Grove Place, and the HINGE neighborhoods together with institutions adjacent to the Inner Loop East such as the Rochester Public Market, and Rochester’s World of Inquiry School No. 58 that have been negatively impacted by the presence of the highway. The senators said the legislation is focused on providing greater opportunities to redevelop new spaces created in order to benefit the current residents and those previously displaced and it supports measures such as the establishment of community land trusts for the development and use of real estate for local residents.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said, “Rochester is proof that by removing old underused highways we can bridge what divided us — both literally and figuratively. By filling in Inner Loop East we built a neighborhood. A $22 million public investment generated over $230 million in private investment, including housing, retail and an expansion of our world-class Strong National Museum of Play. Now, we look forward to the Reconnecting Communities Act helping us create this success again as we plan to fill-in Inner Loop North. I’m grateful to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their continued efforts to rebuild and reconnect our cities.”
Rochester City Councilman Malik Evans said, “As we seek to expand opportunities in the City of Rochester and break down barriers The Reconnecting Communities Act will address the legacy of highway construction built through communities, especially through low-income communities and communities of color, that divided neighborhoods and erected barriers to mobility and opportunity. I look forward to this legislation transforming the landscape of places like Rochester and leading to greater opportunity for everyone in our community”.
Specifically, the American Jobs Plan calls for $25 billion for the Reconnecting Communities Act and other related transportation investments in marginalized communities and workers. The Reconnecting Communities Act would provide federal funds for three categories of grants:
- Community Engagement, Education, and Capacity Building Grants: These grants would fund efforts to educate community members, build community capacity, identify local needs, form community boards, and engage community members in transportation planning. Funds would expand the ability of community members to participate in transportation and economic development decision-making to ensure investments address community needs. Local and Tribal governments, MPOs, and nonprofit organizations would be eligible recipients of community engagement, education, and capacity building grants.
- Planning and Feasibility Grants: These grants would fund state and local planning activities to design projects and study traffic, access, and equity impacts, assess the project feasibility, conduct public engagement and environmental review, and establish a community land trust to develop real estate created by the project. State, local, Tribal governments, MPOs, and nonprofit organizations would be eligible recipients of planning and feasibility grants.
- Capital Construction Grants: These grants would fund construction activities to remove or retrofit an infrastructural barrier in a way that enhances community connectivity, including by capping or replacing it with an at-grade roadway; improving connectivity across a barrier; replacing the facility with a new use like a public park or trail; and other projects that would address the mobility needs of the community. Grants would go to the owner of the infrastructure asset, with whom State, local, Tribal government, MPOs, and nonprofit organizations could partner to be eligible recipients of capital construction grants.
Recently, the senators also successfully included a permanent expansion of local hire or other geographic or economic hiring preferences for construction jobs created by projects funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Surface Transportation Investment Act, which passed out of the Commerce Committee with a bipartisan vote of 25-3. This provision also includes support for the federal government, states, localities, labor, and community organizations to work together to offer training through pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship programs to expand access to new job opportunities for local residents, with a focus on connecting disadvantaged and underserved populations to high-quality construction jobs.
Schumer and Gillibrand have been vocal advocates of the need for local hire and other targeted hiring programs as part of federally-funded construction. Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) heeded the senators’ calls to implement a local hire pilot program for highway projects. The provision passed out of the Commerce Committee would provide the DOT with the authority to turn the local hire pilot into a permanent authority across all DOT programs, not just the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration.
The City of Rochester initiative the Inner Loop North Transformation Study in 2019 to explore alternatives and advance recommendations for redesign of the Inner Loop North. Working alongside community stakeholders the study seeks to kick start the successful planning to transform the Inner loop North from a disruptive barrier into a corridor that improves connectivity, accessibility, and advances community development opportunities for residents and stakeholders along the corridor.
The senators explained that on March 31st, the Biden Administration unveiled the American Jobs Plan, which calls for ‘reimagining and rebuilding’ a new economy. The Plan would aim to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments and increase opportunity, including through the use of local hire jobs programs, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access.
Schumer and Gillibrand were joined by Rev. Julius Clay, Pastor of the New Bethel CME Church, City of Rochester Commissioner of Department of Environmental Services Norman Jones, Rochester City Councilman Malik Evans, Inner Loop North Transformation Study Community Advisory Committee Member Shawn Dunwoody, and local residents.
The senators led the introduction of the Reconnecting Communities Act in April. Local hire and federal resources to rebuild local communities were also central provisions of the Economic Justice Act, legislation that Schumer and Gillibrand introduced last year to invest more than $435 billion to address systemic racism and underinvestment in communities of color. Additionally, Senator Gillibrand introduced in 2019 and in 2021 the Build Local, Hire Local Act, legislation that makes bold reforms to federal infrastructure programs, creates good-paying jobs, and works to right the wrongs of decades of disinvestment and exclusionary federal policies that have cut off communities of color and marginalized populations from opportunity in urban and rural areas alike.