NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Sen. Mark Warner was in town Monday giving the city of Norfolk $1.6 million to study the possibility of tearing down the ramp that leads to and from St. Paul’s Boulevard.  

It’s called the Market Street ramp that comes from and goes to St. Paul’s Boulevard, and many call it an economic hinderance.

“Hopefully more of where this came from,” Warner said to a big “Amen” while holding the ceremonial check.  

Warner delivered the grant money to help address social inequity and economic disparities created by the construction of Interstate 264 and the on- and off-ramps.

“In the (19)50s, 60s, 70s, any program that was called urban renewal virtually every project you drove the interstate right through the black community,” Warner said after presenting the ceremonial check before more than 50 supporters at Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. 

It is next to the boarded-up Tidewater Gardens Public Housing complex ready for demolition.  

It will be replaced with a new community, to be called the Kindred Neighborhood and the hope is to make it more easily accessible downtown.  

“It would study the removal of the Market Street ramp and several belonging in what is known as ‘the spaghetti bowl’ that would reconnect the Tidewater Gardens neighborhood back into downtown and the rest of the city,” said Susan Perry, Norfolk’s director of housing and community development.

William Harrell, president and CEO of Hampton Roads Transit, said “the reconnection will be very important. We know just from the riders on our system who are low and moderate income.” 

For Warner, it is giving the grant to explore opportunities to reconnect the community, and Perry added that “this ramp has really severed the community, it’s an urban highway that members of the Tidewater Gardens Community have to traverse just to get over to all the opportunities in downtown.” 

Norfolk Councilman JP Paige and Del. Angelia Williams Graves, (D-Norfolk) stood on what was the playground they played on when both went to St. Mary’s Academy at the Church where the check was presented. 

They know all about this off ramp from I-264.

“You can go to communities, and you can clearly see the divide by the on-off ramps, sometimes 10 lanes put right in the middle of a community, and that is what it is designed to do, separate people,” Williams Graves said.

She is sure most people driving up and down ramps have no idea what they mean to the African American community.

“As they are driving to and from, they have no idea that was intended to separate communities,” Williams Graves said.

Paige and Williams Graves remember the ramp and all it symbolized as they stood on the church parking lot that was once a ballfield.

“What we have had for years is the haves and the have nots,” Williams Graves said, “and they have been divided by this off-ramp, and it’s symbolic of what was said today, ‘Do we even want you over here?”

Said Paige: “Think about the community being separated from what is happening, and where the decisions are being made and you are not part of.” 

They believe removing the ramp would reconnect the future Kindred neighborhood to Norfolk’s core downtown area. The ramp study is estimated to be completed by mid-2025.

“The environmental injustice as well all of the cars, all the exhaust,” Williams Graves said, “this is what folks have been breathing in this community.”