The U.S. Department of Transportation is opening applications for the first-of-its-kind, $1 billion ‘Reconnecting Communities’ pilot program — and St. Petersburg is hoping to tap into the funding.
The new program, established under President Joe Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will provide funding to cities with the goal of reconnecting people to economic mobility and essential services within their communities via efficient transportation infrastructure. Applications for grant opportunities will be open through Oct. 13.
St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch plans to meet with city staff to explore how to best tap into this historic funding, which comes at a pivotal moment for the city. Last Wednesday, Welch announced that the city is launching a new request for proposal (RFP) to redevelop the Historic Gas Plant District at the Trop site, canceling the previous RFP and selection issued by former Mayor Rick Kriseman in 2020.
“As one of my top priorities, our Administration is working to incorporate equity into all polices to ensure growth benefits the entire community,” Welch said in a statement. “This new available funding can serve as a catalyst for building a connected city and dismantling historic transportation barriers to success while connecting businesses to customers and employees and providing safe transportation options.”
One of the reasons for re-launching the proposal request comes as a result of the city’s Disparity Study and Structural Racism report, with Welch emphasizing the need for equitable development. He also pointed to the cost of rental housing and home ownership, which has skyrocketed since 2020, making affordable and workforce housing a higher priority.
“I’m grateful to the Biden Administration, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for their work to reconnect communities and their partnership with cities across our nation on this important work,” Welch said in a statement.
The program funding could be used for a variety of projects, including adapting existing infrastructure — such as building a pedestrian walkway over or under an existing highway — to better connect neighborhoods to jobs — or improved transportation access through new crosswalks and redesigned intersections. Commitment to shared prosperity and equitable development will be given priority.
“Transportation can connect us to jobs, services, and loved ones, but we‘ve also seen countless cases around the country where a piece of infrastructure cuts off a neighborhood or a community because of how it was built,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg said in a statement. “Using funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are proud to announce the launch of Reconnecting Communities: the first-ever dedicated federal initiative to unify neighborhoods living with the impacts of past infrastructure choices that divided them.”