Biden’s infrastructure bill poised to reconnect Philly neighborhoods split by highways

Chinatown has been separated by the Vine Street Expressway since the 1980s. Officials are hoping money in the Infrastructure and Jobs Bill will be slated to cap the expressway. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Chinatown has been separated by the Vine Street Expressway since the 1980s. Officials are hoping money in the Infrastructure and Jobs Bill will be slated to cap the expressway. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A portion of the Vine Street Expressway could be capped, and Philadelphia’s Chinatown reconnected, thanks to President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

The bipartisan measure passed by Congress and awaiting Biden’s signature will send roughly $14 billion to Pennsylvania.

The money will be used to repair roads and bridges, improve public transportation, and replace lead water pipes.

The bill also includes $1 billion pushed for by  Rep. Dwight Evans and colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to reconnect neighborhoods like Nicetown and Chinatown that have been divided and polluted by racist urban renewal projects engineered decades ago.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Evans spoke to reporters Friday at a briefing held overlooking Vine Street Expressway that has split Chinatown in two for decades.

“The first thing had to be … the money,” Evans said. “We had to get that decision. Second decision is organizing strategy … we know the historical aspect that this is long overdue and needed to be done.”

Rep. Brendan Boyle spoke about the opportunity to correct historic wrongs.

“In this legislation is money to repair and reunite communities that were divided long ago. Divided unjustly and unfairly,” Boyle said.

Chinatown residents have sought government aid to cap the Vine Street Expressway for years. Over the last decade, organizations in the city have received federal grants and other forms of assistance to help mitigate impact and plan future work. At a press conference earlier this year, John Chin, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Corporation, spoke about the impacts of the highway.

“The noise, the pollution, and the imposing physical span of the highway are impediments to healthy neighborhoods,” he said. “Both in the sense of the physical well-being of the people, and the amenities that a neighborhood needs.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

A 2019 study from the Union of Concerned Scientists found neighborhoods bordering the expressway are exposed to a kind of particulate pollution linked to respiratory illnesses and heart disease.

$2.8 billion for transit

Biden’s infrastructure package is the largest public works package the nation has seen in decades. It’s poised to touch pipes, roads, and bridges across the region, but for Philadelphians, the impact on transit will be particularly significant.

11th and Vine Streets in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Federal dollars — $2.8 billion over five years — will flow to SEPTA and other public transportation providers in the state. SEPTA, as the state’s largest transportation provider, will get an extra $120 million in federal money this year alone, according to the agency. The agency will also compete for other grants funded by the bills. If SEPTA wins, the agency could be awarded millions for improving accessibility on the Broad Street Line and Market-Frankford Line, expanding light-rail service to King of Prussia, and modernizing its trolleys.

Some of the money will also go to the Philadelphia International Airport.

President Biden is scheduled to sign the bill into law on Monday.

Subscribe to PlanPhilly

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal