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The jumble of Interstate 264 ramps and interchanges that cut through the area around Norfolk State University is known as a “spaghetti bowl,” with long strands that spread through the surrounding communities.

When the 14-lane-wide mix of infrastructure was built decades ago, it cut off those majority-Black neighborhoods from Norfolk’s downtown core, causing a loss of job and educational opportunities, officials say.

A new $1.6 million federal grant aims to help Norfolk start righting the historical wrongs.

The money comes from a new pilot program called Reconnecting Communities. It was created under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021.

The program is meant to help low-income and minority communities “that are cut off from opportunity and burdened by past transportation infrastructure decisions,” according to a USDOT news release.

Norfolk was one of 45 cities to get an inaugural grant, along with Richmond, which received $1.35 million for a project in Jackson Ward.

“Past infrastructure choices have prevented too many Virginians from accessing critical resources and economic opportunity in their communities,” Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner said in a joint statement.

The funds can be used to remove, improve or replace transportation facilities such as highways, roads and rail lines that create barriers. 

The transportation department said that will include things like filling in sunken highways to reclaim the land for housing, converting inhospitable transportation facilities to tree-lined streets and creating new crossings.

Norfolk plans to look at the feasibility of reconfiguring infrastructure placement that’s impacted historically Black neighborhoods around NSU, along the Elizabeth River and the St. Paul’s public housing complex.

“The legacy impacts of this are still felt today in the form of high unemployment, high poverty levels and low educational attainment,” USDOT said in the news release.

Norfolk officials say they’ll conduct traffic studies, surveys, initial design and engineering options, cost estimates and other analysis including community engagement.