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foot bridge

Editorial: Southernside needs a foot bridge

THE GREENVILLE NEWS EDITORIAL

Southernside needs a foot bridge

Southernside residents and their many friends have successfully used the power of community activism and the threat of federal intervention to get plans rolling for a pedestrian bridge to replace the Hampton Avenue truss bridge that was demolished almost two years ago and split a poor neighborhood in half. What has taken place over the past year proves that a seemingly forgotten neighborhood can get attention and justice when it comes together in the face of adversity.

Elected leaders who represent the Southernside area and longtime neighborhood leaders recently announced they have withdrawn a complaint filed with the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights. A year ago the federal agency agreed to investigate whether the S.C. Department of Transportation had followed procedures correctly in the demolition of the Hampton Avenue Bridge and whether Southernside residents were discriminated against during the process.

Once the Federal Highway Administration took an interest in whether Southernside residents were treated fairly, an odd thing happened. Suddenly state transportation officials took an interest in helping the local group fighting to get a new foot bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks carved deep into the earth below.

“We’ve made significant progress. As a result we have a better relationship with SC DOT,” state Rep. Chandra Dillard, who filed the federal complaint along with longtime Southernside resident Mary Duckett, said recently in a meeting with Greenville News editors and reporters. The group that includes other residents and elected leaders believe they have a viable solution, but Dillard said the group has a year to ask the federal investigators to reopen the case if the newly developed plans “go south.”

The new plans call for a pedestrian bridge to span the railroad tracks that sit below two steep hills. Up until 15 years ago a vehicular bridge crossed the tracks but it was closed to traffic. Neighborhood residents have contended the bridge fell into disrepair because it was not maintained.

The bridge was vital to the life of a neighborhood that until recent years had gotten little attention, and few financial resources, to address legitimate concerns. The bridge allowed the community to be whole. It made it possible for family and friends to visit each other. It allowed a neighborhood that has many people without cars to go shopping, seek medical care and even catch a bus.

To people who don’t live in the neighborhood and who never encounter any real problems with transportation, the Hampton Avenue Bridge that still was used by pedestrians was little more than a dangerous eyesore. State transportation officials were right to be concerned about safety, but they failed to listen to residents’ problems and provide an adequate alternative for them.

The proposed solution was a callous one. Namely, the residents could use the Pete Hollis Boulevard to get across the railroad tracks, and it was just 1. 5 miles away. To some people, the distance is what some people walk on an after-dinner stroll many nights. To Southernside residents, the distance was a hardship. A store or relatives suddenly were not the equivalent of a few blocks away. A 1.5 mile trip became 3 miles considering someone had to return the same way.

A pedestrian bridge will cost about $1.3 million, and Greenville County’s Transportation Committee already has pledged $500,000 to help with the project. The foot bridge for Hampton Avenue made it to the No. 2 spot on the list of projects that will be funded if Greenville County voters this November approve a 1 percent sales tax increase for road improvements that include bridges, resurfacing work and “pedestrian amenities” such as sidewalks. Dillard said her group has a Plan B if voters reject the idea of temporarily raising the sales tax to pay for road improvements. Clearly the Southernside effort will be helped immensely if the sales tax is approved and the funding is in place by the end of this year.

Details other than securing all the money must be worked out. Southernside leaders are confident those matters can be cleared up given the assistance they have gotten from Greenville County and the support of late from state transportation officials. This once-proud neighborhood has suffered greatly over the past few decades, and the residents deserve a bridge that once again will connect a neighborhood.

This post originally appeared in The Greenville News on 08/10/2014

Southernside environmental justice complaint

Agreement reached after environmental justice complaint

After a year-long environmental justice battle, the Southernside, SC neighborhood is seeing progress toward a new bridge.

Environmental Justice Complaint Background

SCSJ began assisting the Southernside neighborhood with their environmental justice complaint in the summer of 2013. SCSJ filed a complaint on behalf of state Rep. Chandra Dillard and longtime resident Mary Duckett, alleging that the state transportation department violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by excluding Southernside, “an economically disadvantaged community of color,” from the decision to demolish the bridge because of their race and income level. SCSJ also helped Southernside coordinate community meetings to bring together members of the Southernside neighborhood, local officials, and federal civil rights investigators to discuss the importance of the bridge.

In July 2014, SCSJ and Southernside announced plans to withdraw the Title VI complaint because new staff at the SC Department of Transportation seemed open to a collaborative process to resolve the bridge issue. Since the complaint was withdrawn, the collaborative process has been rapid and effective, with local newspapers reporting on August 4, 2014 that a plan is in place to build a new bridge to connect Southernside to the rest of Greenville, SC. In a meeting with editors and reporters of The Greenville News, Dillard, Duckett and City Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming said transportation officials are working with the county to build a new pedestrian bridge, estimated at $1.3 million, that will reconnect residents to the city that lies on the other side.

Funding the new bridge

$1.3 million is a lot of money for a local transit project. But local leaders seem committed to bringing the plan to fruition. According to the Greenville News:

County Administrator Joe Kernell said the county’s Transportation Committee, which funds different transportation projects using gas tax money, has already pledged $500,000 to help build the bridge. The rest would be paid for with a 1 percent sales tax hike, provided voters authorize it during the November referendum…

If voters reject the referendum, “We have a Plan B,” Dillard said. Options could include additional grants or gas tax allocations.

What comes next?

“We’re still not at the finish line,” said SCSJ attorney Allison Riggs. “But it is most encouraging that the Southernside neighborhood is being brought to the table and treated as equals. SCSJ will stay involved in the bridge replacement planning process to ensure that Southernside’s rights are protected.”

Read more about the Southernside Environmental Justice Complaint here.

Southernside environmental justice complaint

Victory in Southernside SC Environmental Justice Case

After more than a year of fighting, the Southernside Environmental Justice Title VI came to an amicable conclusion. The Title VI complaint filed by SCSJ in early 2013 stated that the South Carolina Department of Transportation violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by excluding residents of the Southernside neighborhood, an economically disadvantaged community of color, from the decision to demolish a pedestrian bridge that connected the community to the adjacent neighborhood. That Title VI complaint is now being voluntarily withdrawn due to a more collaborative relationship between the Southernside neighborhood and the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

“We were forced to resort to a Title VI complaint in 2013 because at that time the leadership at the South Carolina Department of Transportation would not respond to our concerns,” said state legislator Chandra Dillard. “Now that they are under new leadership that is willing to come to the table, we are no longer obliged to take such a confrontational approach,” continued Dillard.

Southernside

Representative Chandra Dillard

The Hampton Avenue Bridge allowed easier access to a grocery store and pharmacy, among many other benefits.  While the Hampton Avenue Bridge was allegedly demolished due to age and disrepair, SCSJ found that old bridges that served more affluent communities were not demolished, and that its demolition had a disparate negative impact on the underserved residents of color in the neighborhood—a protected group under Title VI. “South Carolina Department of Transportation has taken positive steps in supporting our efforts to find a solution, and we believe they will continue to take the further necessary steps, especially in light of our withdrawal of the complaint, signaling that we are teammates rather than adversaries,” said Dillard.

“The Southern Coalition for Social Justice believes in finding the best solution for each community we represent,” said staff attorney Allison Riggs. “We are pleased that the Southernside neighborhood feels that they can resolve this matter amicably. By working directly with the South Carolina Department of Transportation and other key players, we can achieve a more collaborative and efficient resolution than we might through lengthy administrative action. This is a win for our clients.”

To learn more about SCSJ’s involvement in this case, read our blog post here.

Southernside

Southernside Community Meeting