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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg celebrated a $10 million grant to reconstruct West 51st Street in Tulsa on Tuesday, making a stop to the city as part of his Building a Better America Tour.
The investment in Tulsa is thanks to a portion of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill Congress passed in 2021. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides funding to reconnect communities that were cut off by transportation infrastructure.
“Really what we’re talking about is the story of people’s lives and their neighborhoods,” Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the crowd of community leaders gathered by the construction site.
“Something as intimate as your daily routine or your ability to get to see people you love, or get to work or get to school or get to church, depends on whether your transportation options are succeeding or whether they’re failing.”
The secretary’s visit comes after city leaders successfully applied for a federal grant through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, a program Buttigieg said is fiercely competitive.
In total, 166 projects are underway across the nation out of over 900 applications received.
Community members urging funding for similar infrastructure project in Greenwood
Meanwhile, it’s unclear when or if action will be taken to address another prominent dividing highway in Tulsa.
The construction of interstate 244 divided Black Wall Street from the rest of the city and contributed to the modern decline of the historic Greenwood District.
Today, concrete from the I-244 overpass hangs like a dark cloud in the area where the famous Dreamland Theater once stood.
“The reality is that in the last century, there was a great deal of work done all across America to build infrastructure to support vehicles. But what we’ve learned over time is that cities don’t live in service to vehicles,” Mayor Bynum said.
Missing from his speech, however, was any reference to Black Wall Street.
Justice for Greenwood: Tulsa’s challenge
The celebration and visit by Secretary Pete Buttigieg comes against the backdrop of an ongoing civil case where survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre are fighting for reparations from the City and State. Mayor Bynum has been an outspoken opponent of reparations in the form of direct payment.
On the 100-Year anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Biden came to Tulsa and used the bridge hanging over Black Wall Street as an example of what his Infrastructure Law could help address.
“Only with truth can come healing and justice and repair…but that isn’t enough,” Biden told the crowd inside the Greenwood Cultural Center last year.
Less than a month later, near the end of June 2021, City leaders said they were looking for Black Tulsans, and Massacre descendants especially, to give input on what should happen to the I-244 bridge. The request for community input came weeks after the Tulsa City Council passed a broader resolution that promised to create a subcommittee to discuss a pathway to restorative justice for survivors and descendants of the Massacre.
It’s unclear exactly where the city is in that process, but funding for the project has only recently become available.
Secretary Pete Buttigieg: Black Wall Street part of “the American story”
On Tuesday, Secretary Buttigieg told reporters similar efforts to reconnect communities would be available through grants from the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. State and City leaders must apply for the grant to address specific reconnection projects.
Buttigieg acknowledged the importance of Black Wall Street and his desire to visit the Greenwood District.
The Black Wall Street Times asked Buttigieg what his message to city leaders would be when it comes to applying for grants to address Black Wall Street.
“I see the passion, and I see the energy, and again, there’s a national understanding about what Black Wall Street means,” Secretary Pete Buttigieg told The Black Wall Street Times.
“And what Black Wall Street means not just to the history of Tulsa, or to the neighborhood around it, really to the entire American story,” he added.
Pete Buttigieg embarks on Building a Better America Tour
The reconstruction of West 51st Street includes a connection under US-75, a new pedestrian bridge over the TSU Railroad, and a new connection to the Arkansas River Trail.
The project is one of six that will take place in Oklahoma with $48.7 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sec. Pete Buttigieg visited Tampa, Florida to celebrate investment there. Other cities and states Buttigieg will tour include Fernley, Nevada; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Sandusky, Ohio; and Berlin, New Hampshire.
Nate Morris contributed to this report.