US Goal of Racial Equity in Infrastructure Is Left to States

While business leaders in the community say the highway would connect the town to economic hubs in Louisiana, Ms. Wiley worries it will displace her church and neighbors.

“Looking at where I live right now, it’s like they want to push us out farther and, well, it will gentrify the community,” said Ms. Wiley, the president of an organization opposing the development. “My hope is that it won’t be the same but I feel like it will.”

Shawn Wilson, the secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Transportation, said he was weighing the concerns of Ms. Wiley, as well as the views of members of the business community who say the project would connect Allendale to other cities in Louisiana and nearby states, generating millions in economic value for the communities.

Mr. Wilson, who was recently elected the president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a nonprofit representing state transportation departments, has yet to reach a decision on how the state should proceed.

But he said the federal government had informed him that Louisiana’s chances of getting money from the discretionary fund would depend on whether the state’s projects factor in racial equity and climate change. That discretionary money, he said, would be necessary to complete any expansion.

Mr. Wilson said the views of the local community would be paramount.

“We’re going to ask them to live with this infrastructure. We’re going to ask them to invest local dollars in this infrastructure,” he said. “And if we don’t do it right, they’re going to have to deal with the consequences of this infrastructure.”

Federal officials say there are provisions in place to encourage states to take equity into account. Transportation Department officials have been working with the Domestic Policy Council, headed by Susan Rice, who leads the president’s racial equity initiative, to reach out to local governments to implement the infrastructure package.

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