PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — City leaders and congressional reps visited Downtown Portsmouth to announce a wave of aid coming from the federal government.
Over $19 million has been awarded to the city for the Complete High Street Innovation Corridor as part of funding allocated from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in the fall of 2021. Almost $200,000 has been awarded to the Friends of Portsmouth Juvenile Court to develop ways to invest in communities and combat gun violence.
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Congressman Bobby Scott joined Portsmouth leaders for a press conference to announce the funding.
Watch the press conference below.
Sen. Kaine said the push for support from Congress to help revitalize the High Street corridor started with an idea.
“Can we extend this really kind of pleasant High Street all the way to the MLK, create bike lanes, create better pedestrian access for everyday folks?”
The $19.3 million will be used to redesign High Street between Chestnut Street and the MLK Expressway. The plans include changes like installing bike accommodations and landscaped medians, similar to the medians seen on the opposite side of High Street between Effingham and Crawford Streets. Kaine says the money is being used to also address equity and sustainability issues.
“Parts of the city have been heavily invested in, parts haven’t. There are some equity issues,” he said. “And the sustainability issues. We’re dealing with sea level rise and flooding and a stormwater system that isn’t adequate enough to deal with it.”
Aside from High Street revitalization, $199,000 has been awarded to the Friends of Portsmouth Juvenile Court to tackle gun violence issues in a unique way.
The funding helps the group address needs in communities by looking at stats – like crime and school dropout rates – to provide access to services like workforce development. Vernon Tillage, President of Friends of Portsmouth Juvenile Court, says they can solve the widescale issues by first going to neighborhoods who need the help the most.
“If we can come in here with people just everyday people and just knock on the doors and just say, ‘Hey, we’re here to help you. Here are the resources. Fill out this survey.’ That’s how we’re going to try to take the approach to initiate it,” said Tillage.
Brandon Randleman is a Community Advocate who helped the organization write up their grant proposal for state funding, and he’s helping with the federal proposal too. He said the key to their success lies in providing direct access to communities isolated from needed resources due to any number of factors, including transportation.
“If you can, can you come into the community and show that, ‘Hey, we’re here. We’re partnering with these groups and these are jobs we want to give to your community because we see the need.’ Also in mental health services. We would like to see vocational services as well,” he said.
Eugene Swinson from Big Homies Community Outreach works daily in the communities this new federal funding targets. He hopes by getting a small amount of neighbors involved, it’ll work as a trickle-down effect throughout the rest of the neighborhood.
“The same way they followed the gangs, they going to follow this too if they have some success with it. They’ll be like, ‘How’d y’all get into that? Who do I need to talk to?’ So now you kind of take care of a whole neighborhood just by helping a couple in the beginning,” said Swinson.
Rep. Scott says it’s important for community members to see how this help from Washington D.C. is helping them in their communities.
“When you can improve the conditions here in the innovation corridor to improve the quality of the corridor right here or improve the life of juveniles, then we’re getting our job done,” said Scott.
Construction on High Street is expected to start as early as Spring 2023, with construction expected to last two to three years.
The program from Friends of Portsmouth Juvenile Court is expected to start in mid-October.