For decades, the blocks between downtown and Union Station have been silent and bare. But now, a $20 million federal grant may revitalize the area.

The city announced in mid-October that it would use its newest Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant — a federal grant for transportation improvement and economic development — to launch the Downtown Crossing project, which will create a mixed-use development in the area currently occupied by Route 34. Constructed in the 1950s, Route 34 separates the city’s peripheral neighborhoods from downtown, but the highway will be converted into streets suitable for pedestrians and new businesses.

Five years ago, New Haven received a $16 million TIGER grant to help develop Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ new headquarters at 100 College St.

These grants are just one part of Mayor Toni Harp’s larger vision to create a safer and more employee-friendly city, said Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, the city’s economic development administrator.

“Downtown Crossing reconnects those parts of the city, which were arbitrarily separated back in the 1950s,” said city spokesman Laurence Grotheer.

These efforts are not the first to revitalize the Elm City’s downtown. Route 34 was originally constructed to do so, but city planners did not anticipate that people and businesses presumably would not want to settle near a highway.

Because Route 34 was never completed under its original plans, former Elm City Mayor John DeStefano started to conceptualize the Downtown Crossing plan. His efforts laid the groundwork for Harp’s plans.

The $20 million TIGER grant will develop an area to hopefully attractive to businesses that would otherwise relocate to larger cities such as Boston and New York City, Nemerson said.

“We’re always trying to position [the city] to be a location that people want to move to if they’re thinking of moving,” he said.

Although city employees were optimistic about the plan, Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, had her own reservations.

Under the Downtown Crossing project, wide roads favoring cars rather than pedestrians will keep neighborhoods from actually being connected, she said. Farwell also said that better pedestrian access would lead to more people walking to work.

“The best transportation system is no transportation at all,” Farwell said.

Too much land is used for parking in New Haven, she added. Certain parcels of land could also be re-zoned for other purposes, which would strengthen New Haven’s tax base, Farwell said.

Route 34 was built under New Haven Mayor Richard Lee.