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The federal government will spend $4 million on improvements to the Fulton Avenue bridge over U.S. 40 in West Baltimore this spring — adding trees, benches and other landscaping upgrades to make the bridge more accessible to pedestrians and bikers. (Colin Campbell/The Sun)
The federal government will spend $4 million on improvements to the Fulton Avenue bridge over U.S. 40 in West Baltimore this spring — adding trees, benches and other landscaping upgrades to make the bridge more accessible to pedestrians and bikers. (Colin Campbell/The Sun) (Colin Campbell)

The federal government and Baltimore will spend $4 million on improvements to the Fulton Avenue bridge over U.S. 40 on the west side this spring — adding bike paths, benches and other landscaping.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced the project, dubbed "Re-Connect West Baltimore," at a news conference Thursday.

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"If you're not familiar with Baltimore, you might not know that by building U.S. 40 right through several neighborhoods, planners physically divided communities and all but isolated them in every way from the city's commercial, cultural, and educational opportunities," Rawlings-Blake wrote in a recent post on the U.S. Department of Transportation's website.

The unfinished highway was intended to connect Interstate 70 to Interstates 83 and 95 downtown, a plan that was blocked by activists including Barbara A. Mikulski in a drawn-out fight that launched her political career in the 1960s and '70s.

"Because transportation is such an integral part of upward mobility and connecting communities to jobs," Rawlings-Blake wrote, "the City of Baltimore is trying to 'reconnect' neighborhoods in West Baltimore north and south of U.S. 40 that were severely impacted by the 'Highway to Nowhere.'"

The West Baltimore bridge is part of a federal strategy, Foxx said, "where we are engaging at the local level to imagine a transportation system that connects everyone and makes sure there is no ZIP code in America that is cut off from opportunity."

The Fulton Avenue bridge is one of eight road bridges across the 1.4-mile-long highway also known at "The Ditch." Fulton carries U.S. 1 one way northbound from Harlem Park into Mulberry.

Rawlings-Blake said the project will reconfigure road lanes, upgrade traffic signals and add Americans with Disabilities Act improvements to encourage West Baltimore residents to use it "as a gateway."

To qualify for an added $100,000 federal incentive, more than half of the new workers hired for the project must be Baltimore residents, Rawlings-Blake said.

"This could not come at a better time, where we're working so hard across the city to remove barriers to employment and to create more opportunities," the mayor said. "You can create all the opportunities in the world, but if people can't get to them, it's all for naught."

The project will begin this spring and is expected to be completed next year.

The announcement comes on the one-year anniversary of the Ladders of Opportunity Transportation Empowerment Pilot, a federal program that is investing in community revitalization in seven cities, including Baltimore. Here, that program is focusing on the area around the West Baltimore MARC Station, about five blocks from the Fulton Avenue bridge.

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