This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
To celebrate the occasion, PolicyLink and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights held a discussion this week about how that legislation has affected transportation policy. Three local community leaders shared stories about how they used legal protections to combat discriminatory transportation projects.
Advocates have been fighting for better transit in the Milwaukee region for about a decade, says the Wisconsin ACLU’s Karyn Rotker.
In the notoriously segregated Milwaukee region, nearly 50 percent of African Americans depend on transit. But regional leaders have severely limited transit access to the suburbs, which is especially problematic because Milwaukee’s suburbs have captured an increasing share of the region’s jobs over the last few decades.
“There are huge racial issues here as well as the urban sprawl issues,” said Rotker.
The Wisconsin DOT has been planning to rebuild and expand the “Zoo Interchange” near Milwaukee for the jaw-dropping sum of $1.7 billion. The ACLU, in partnership with some of the region’s civil rights groups, filed suit against WisDOT, alleging the project violated the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA. The complaint asserted that transit riders and transit-dependent communities were not considered in WisDOT’s planning process. They also alleged that the state failed to consider the “interrelated social effects” of expanding highway capacity, and the impact that was likely to have on sprawl and racial segregation in the region.