Houston's Gulfton area is one of 45 communities across the U.S. that has been identified for a new federal pilot program to bolster transportation connections in areas that have seen connections severed by past infrastructure decisions.

In a Feb. 28 announcement, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said $185 million in grant awards will be given out to the 45 communities—including $552,160 for Gulfton—for the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program. The funding in Gulfton will be used for public and stakeholder engagement, an evaluation of existing conditions, the design and analysis of several concepts related to Hillcroft Avenue, and the creation of an implementation plan.

In a Feb. 28 news release from the U.S. Department of Transportation, officials said Hillcroft and highways like I-69 and the Westpark Tollway have created "inhospitable conditions" for Gulfton residents, limiting their access to schools, parks, commercial centers and transportation hubs.

“Transportation should connect, not divide, people and communities,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “We are proud to announce the first grantees of our Reconnecting Communities Program, which will unite neighborhoods; ensure the future is better than the past; and provide Americans with better access to jobs, health care, groceries and other essentials.”

Officials with the city of Houston Planning Department said the funding will directly support the city's Gulfton Complete Communities Action Plan, which outlines a variety of projects and programs with the broader goal of turning Gulfton into a community where all residents can thrive. Also underway in Gulfton are the Greener Gulfton plan—designed to enhance green space and improve environmental resilience—and an effort by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County to improve public transportation at the Westpark/Lower Uptown Transit Center.

“Gulfton is Houston’s most densely populated, diverse, and transit-dependent neighborhood, but its residents face many physical barriers in getting around their neighborhood,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “I thank the United States Department of Transportation for committing funds to address these barriers and propose workable solutions.”

Moving forward, the city's planning and development department will conduct a 12-month planning process to study and design connections across barriers such as Hillcroft, I-69 and the Westpark Tollway, a process officials said will involve working with residents and agency partners. The study will look particularly at how to create better connections to Wisdom High School, the Hillcroft Transit Center, the Mahatma Gandhi District and the Brays Bayou Greenway Trail while also making safety improvements to Hillcroft.

The Reconnecting Communities program was established by U.S. President Joe Biden through the 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. One other Texas city was among the 45 grant recipients: the city of Austin, which got $1.12 million for its Connecting Austin Equitably study.

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, who represents the Gulfton area, advocated for the city to receive the grant, including in a September letter to Buttigieg. She noted 12% of households in Gulfton do not have vehicles, twice that of Harris County overall.

“This investment in Houston’s most dense and transit-dependent neighborhood will enhance multimodal accessibility, increase economic opportunities, and improve overall well-being for surrounding communities, enabling Houstonians to travel safely to and from work, school, and other destinations," Fletcher said in a statement.