Planned Salisbury bypass faulted as discriminatory

April 22, 1994|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff Writer

The ACLU has asked the federal government not to fund a planned Salisbury bypass because it would harm a predominantly black neighborhood.

Deborah A. Jeon, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said the proposed U.S. 50 bypass represents a case of historic racial discrimination repeating itself. When the original U.S. 50 was built in the 1960s, she said, it displaced numerous black families who were never even notified the highway was coming.

The 10-page complaint to the U.S. Department of Transportation's civil rights division includes an affidavit from Ann Church, 42, a resident of the Salisbury community of Jersey Heights whose family was uprooted by the original highway.

"Just as I was displaced by Route 50 as a 9-year-old, my 9-year-old daughter will see her all-black neighborhood singled out as a highway construction site," Ms. Church said in her statement.

The State Highway Administration has proposed a 5.2-mile-long bypass route that veers around the north side of the Wicomico County town. The long-discussed project would cost about $72 million, of which the federal government was expected to pay 80 percent, or $57.6 million.

Ultimately, the bypass would free Ocean City vacationers from Salisbury's numerous traffic lights, which frequently cause delays on summer weekends.

In her complaint filed on behalf of the Jersey Heights Neighborhood Association, Ms. Jeon alleges that the SHA did not contact Jersey Heights residents when the project was first planned in the 1970s. She claims the "99 percent African-American" Jersey Heights is the only residential neighborhood directly affected by the project.

"The bypass would alter the essential nature of Jersey Heights," the ACLU's letter states. "Property values would fall. The neighborhood would become an undesirable place to live, and many current residents would no longer wish to stay."

SHA spokeswoman Valerie Burnette said the route not only goes through a black community, but through an industrial area and a predominantly white community. She said the design of the highway has still not been fully decided.

"This is the first time in recent memory we've ever received a complaint that one of our alignments has been racially motivated," she said. "We've not intended it to be that. This was the route that was determined to be the least disruptive."

The SHA currently has no timetable to build the bypass, nor has any money been allocated for construction.

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