The Southern Coalition for Social Justice provides legal counsel to Southernside Neighborhoods in Action, neighborhood leader Mary Duckett and state Rep. Chandra Dillard. This group of concerned Greenville community members is fighting the closure of the Southernside Bridge and resulting isolation of an already under-served community.
Southernside bridge removal spurs civil rights probe
Complaint lodged over decision
Hampton Avenue bridge on Thursday, June 14, 2012. / MYKAL McELDOWNEY/Staff
The old truss bridge in Southernside that came down last September is now the source of a civil rights investigation.
Spanning the railroad tracks just beyond Washington Street, the bridge was removed after the state Department of Transportation determined it was “fracture critical” and unsafe for pedestrians to cross.
The Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights has launched an investigation into a complaint accusing the transportation department of discriminating against Southernside’s largely black community.
The complaint, filed by neighborhood leader Mary Duckett and state Rep. Chandra Dillard, alleges that the Department of Transportation denied residents the chance to be involved in the decision to demolish the bridge because of their race and income level — violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The complaint further alleges that the Department of Transportation violated the federal 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice, which Dillard said requires all DOT projects to address any adverse social, environmental or economic effects on minority or low-income communities.
Transportation department spokesman Pete Poore confirmed Wednesday that a civil rights complaint had been filed against the agency and said agency officials don’t comment on pending litigation.
The Federal Highway Administration has assigned an investigator to the case who will be “conducting a fact-finding effort in the coming weeks,” said agency spokesman Doug Hecox.
“If we think there’s merit in this, we would share it with the Justice Department who would then pursue it through the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Hecox said.
GreenvilleOnline.com first reported in July 2012 that Department of Transportation officials planned to have the bridge removed on Hampton Avenue because they said it was too expensive to fix and that residents would be able to use Pete Hollis Boulevard — 1.5 miles away — to get across the tracks.
Two months later, the bridge was torn down, and one of the last links between an already declining neighborhood and the rest of the city was gone.
Duckett, president of Southernside Neighborhoods in Action, said she couldn’t find anyone in the community who met with transportation department officials during the process.
Agency officials had been invited to meetings but never showed, Duckett said.
The Department of Transportation “completely failed to give community members any notice of the bridge’s coming demise,” according to a letter sent by residents to the FHWA.
It was like the nail in a coffin, Dillard said.
“Southernside has been beat up one side and down the other, first by the Western Corridor project, which closed off six access points to the community, and now this.”
If the FHWA rules that the Department of Transportation violated civil rights, Dillard said it could mean a change in decision-making policies within the agency so that other communities in the state wouldn’t have to go through what Southernside did.
“This is a big deal because it’s not often that communities get to this point,” she said.