While various infrastructure issues have plagued Alabama’s Black Belt for decades, one issue that often gets overlooked is the lack of accessible sidewalks. For those living in rural areas, however, sidewalks are the most important transportation facility, according to a Ministry of Transport survey.
In the coming months, Auburn University will fill this need in 10 Black Belt communities.
The Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian program in Auburn’s underserved communities plans to use $1.3 million in federal funding to design construction plans for sidewalk improvement projects in Demopolis, Eufaula, Eutaw, Enterprise, Georgiana, Greenville, Opp, Selma, Troy and Tuskegee.
“In many of our historically underserved or underfunded communities, their pedestrian infrastructure has been, more or less, untouched for decades,” said Rod Turochy, director of the Alabama Transportation Assistance Program. . “What we will do is community engagement planning and design improvements that their pedestrian facilities need to make them current and complete.”
In many of these municipalities, the sidewalk systems are incomplete, crumbling, and do not meet ADA compliance. Repairing the sidewalks will make these communities more walkable and convenient for pedestrians, but Turochy said safety is the primary concern.
Road deaths have seen a dramatic increase in the United States over the past decade, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reporting the highest number of road deaths. since 2007 last year. A significant portion of these fatalities were pedestrians hit by cars.
“Many of these deaths are preventable,” Turochy said. “It’s about making sure people don’t have to go out and walk down the street, making sure it’s completely ADA compliant, so a person confined to a wheelchair rolling, for example, has no challenges that the rest of us who might have full mobility would not face.
Pedestrian safety isn’t just a rural issue, but the Auburn team decided to focus on these 10 communities because they’re in “persistent poverty areas.” Additionally, seven of the municipalities are located in counties that rank among the top 25% in the state for the number of car crashes involving pedestrians.
The Auburn program has partnered with a local nonprofit The Fifty Fund to complete the community engagement aspect of the project, and they have already started the process in Troy.
Funding for these projects will come from the U.S. Department of Transportation in the form of Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Discretionary Grants, also known as the RAISE program.
In total, Alabama will receive $18.4 million through RAISE, split between Auburn’s Sidewalk Projects and the City of Tuscaloosa’s University Boulevard Corridor Project. The latter will receive the majority of the funds, namely $17.1 million.
The Tuscaloosa project encompasses several facets of infrastructure, including the installation of streetlights, the construction of bike paths, and the improvement of curbs, gutters, and drainage systems.
“The City of Tuscaloosa couldn’t be more thrilled to be a recipient of the Department of Transportation’s RAISE grant. These funds will give us the opportunity to make improvements to one of the main arteries connecting Tuscaloosa, providing better connectivity in our community,” said Mayor Walt Maddox.
These funds are part of nearly $1 billion in RAISE grants distributed this year, and that money is split equally between urban and rural improvement projects across the country.
“We’re proud to support these great projects that will improve infrastructure, strengthen supply chains, make us safer, advance fairness and fight climate change,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. in a press release. “As in previous years, we received far more requests than we could fund: this cycle saw a roughly ten-to-one ratio of requests to available dollars.”
Ultimately, the grants will fund 90 infrastructure improvement operations over the next year.
Hadley Hitson covers the rural South for the Montgomery Advertiser and Report for America. She can be reached at [email protected].