An article written by Megan Kimble, “A Highway that Doesn’t Exist is Strangling a Black Neighborhood” published in Bloomberg.com describes what happened to the Allendale neighborhood in Shreveport, Louisiana.
In my article, ‘Urban Renewal, An Assault on Black Neighborhoods,” to be published in the New York Law Journal on February 28, 2023, I spoke of how, “[i]n city after city, highways that were build to appease white suburban commuters, and enabled through white suburban commuters, and enabled through eminent domain and funds from the 1949 Housing Act and 1956 Interstate Highway Act, were shoved through these areas, causing surrounding blight and pollution.”
The article describes the Allendale neighborhood as a majority Black neighborhood full of families who took a lot of pride in their houses and surroundings. But around 2009, the idea of Inner-City Connector re-emerged. It had never really gone away, but prior to then local leaders had focused their political energy on securing funding to build the sections of the highway extending north and south from the city.
Interstate 49 opened south of Shreveport in 1996. Fifteen years later, the northern section extending to the Arkansas state line was fully funded and ready to break ground – and the case for completing the link started to gain momentum. As highway talk picked up, revitalization ground to a halt. No one wanted to invest in a neighborhood that would soon be demolished.
Federal transportation law, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, gives wide latitude to states like Louisiana to select their own highway projects. FHWA does ensure that federally funded road projects comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, but until the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development produces an environmental impact statement, or EIS, documenting the specific impacts of the proposed highway – including residences, businesses, and historic structures that would be displaced – FHWA has limited authority to intervene. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has been working to prepare a draft EIS since 2016, according to a website for the project.
A USDOT spokesperson also said that the department encourages states to improve their existing highway infrastructure. But selecting which projects to build is firmly in the hands of state transportation departments.
“The real damage of this project is not that it ever actually happens,” says a neighborhood advocate, who watched as four governors fought to get I-49 North funded. There is no such high-level champion for the Inner-City Connector today, he says. “Recognizing what those funding challenges are tells me it likely does not happen. But by just simply coming up with a record of decision and designating the corridor, means that, if you never end up pouring an ounce of concrete, you still killed Allendale. There will be no growth and no development, no opportunity to be able to bring people back to that neighborhood.”