Demolished Bridge Sparks Civil Rights Investigation - WSPA.com

Demolished Bridge Sparks Civil Rights Investigation

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The Federal Highway Administration is launching an investigation into whether the Hampton Ave. Bridge’s removal violated the civil rights of people who live in the Southernside neighborhood. The Federal Highway Administration is launching an investigation into whether the Hampton Ave. Bridge’s removal violated the civil rights of people who live in the Southernside neighborhood.
GREENVILLE, S.C. -

An old bridge is causing some new controversy.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation tore down the Hampton Avenue Bridge in the Southernside neighborhood of Greenville last year, saying it was unsafe for pedestrians to use.

Now the Federal Highway Administration is launching an investigation into whether removing the bridge violated the civil rights of people who live in the neighborhood nearby.

Mary Duckett has lived in Greenville's Southernside neighborhood all her life.

"I walked up this way and across this bridge on a daily basis," said Duckett.

But now that pedestrian bridge over the train tracks is just a hole in the ground.

Last year, the South Carolina Department of Transportation demolished the bridge, saying it was unsafe for pedestrians.

"People would now have to walk 1.5 miles or more to get to the same destination, which in this case, sometimes it's the bus stop, sometimes it's the school, sometimes it's the little grocery store that's on the other side," said State Rep. Chandra Dillard.

So Dillard and Duckett joined together to file a civil rights complaint, saying the SCDOT demolished a critical connector between the neighborhood and the rest of the city without reaching out to neighbors first.

Now, the Federal Highway Administration is launching a civil rights investigation.

"There seems to be a plan to disenfranchise African-Americans from this community," said Duckett. "Gentrification has definitely ruined this area. And with the bridge being torn down, it's a sad thing. It's a sad day in our area."

A spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration said it's standard procedure to look into every complaint.

But does the complaint have merit?

Furman College professor Sean O'Rourke, who has a law degree and a background in civil rights, said it depends.

"Obviously, the Department of Transportation has a vested interest and a duty to protect people from unsafe bridges, and roads and underpasses," said O'Rourke. "Now the question as I understand it is, was the neighborhood given adequate time to comment in a public forum? And if that was not the case, then it is possible that there are grounds for a concern here."

SCDOT would not answer 7 On Your Side's questions or talk about what happened with plans to build a new footbridge.

So what's next? Federal Highway Administration investigators will head to Greenville in the next few weeks to interview local SCDOT employees and people who live in Southernside. If they find there have been violations of the civil rights act, the Justice Department will take over, and could decide the DOT has to pay a fine or build Southernside a new bridge.

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