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I-81 Project Managers Rethinking Roundabout Near Dr. King School After Community Concerns

Department of Transportation Regional Director Dave Smith speaks at a press conference as I-81 Project Director Mark Frechette stands behind him outside the Erie Canal Museum.
Wyatt Barmore-Pooley
/
WAER
Department of Transportation Regional Director Dave Smith speaks at a press conference as I-81 Project Director Mark Frechette stands behind him outside the Erie Canal Museum, Oct. 7, 2021.

After public outcry, transportation officials are re-examining the location of a roundabout that's to be part of the Interstate 81 viaduct renovation. The Thursday announcement demonstrates how the agency is incorporating community concerns that have been collected during the lengthy and ongoing public comment period.

Community members previously raised safety concerns that a proposed traffic circle was too close to Dr. King Elementary School in the city's Southside neighborhood. They're primarily concerned its proximity will continue pollution problems that have caused health issues for the school's students.

Project Director Mark Frechette said the agency will consider alternate locations following the extensive comment period that opened in July.

“I think what DOT heard was that the roundabout at MLK was a fatal flaw, and I think we can engineer some new things that will be acceptable to the community," Frechette said at the Thursday update on the project.

But Frechette said a large portion of the more than 3,000 public comments also focused on local construction jobs to come from the project.

He said the first phase of construction will include five contracts totaling $800 million to increase the number of contractors that can compete in the bidding. Those contractors will be hired next year after the final environmental impact statement, which will incorporate public feedback before the final record of decision is approved.

Construction is projected to start in 2023, with the I-81 viaduct itself not being decommissioned until after phase one of the project is completed — that's expected to take two years. Officials are still accepting online comments through Oct. 14.

Editor's Note: The headline of this article has been edited.