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Syracuse's Northside Stakeholders Say I-81 Project Would Significantly Impact Neighborhoods

Leaders on Syracuse’s north side are concerned about the potential impact of the I-81 project on their neighborhoods.  Director of the Northside Urban Partnership Dominic Robinson stood outside the new One Group Center adjacent to Spencer Street and the freeway.

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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
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WAER News
A view from the roof of Mission Landing in Franklin Square. I-81 in the distance is proposed to be widened to 8 lanes, and "flyover" ramps would be created to complete the I-81/I-690 interchange. That plan would likely take out the red brick building on the left and the one with the green roof.

"The widening of I-81 north of downtown, north of the viaduct in ways that would encroach upon what is Genant Drive right into Franklin Square," Robinson said.  "Then onto State Street on the north side, as well as the 690 interchange... the missing links into 81. I n the scenarios that are painted today, we would see significant demolition of very significant properties."

George Angeloro is also with Northside UP.  He worked for the NYS Department of Transportation for 30 years before retiring 14 years ago.

"They're taking Nettleton Commons, another very large structure," Angeloro said.  "VIP Structures...these are all a major tax base on the north side, and they're all going to be gone.  They're taking down St. Johns church built in 1851.  That's pre-civil war.  That was here almost before Syracuse was here, and it's going to be torn down."

While discussion of the I-81 project has largely centered on the viaduct, the stakeholders accuse the DOT of keeping the impact on the north side largely under wraps.  Franklin Square developer Doug Sutherland says the project is a rare opportunity to reverse decades of decline attributed in part to the highway.

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Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
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WAER News
Proposed flyover ramps to connect I-81 north to I-690 west would likely cross directly in front of Mission Landing.

"It's the largest redevelopment project in Syracuse history," Sutherland said.  "At the moment, it's being shaped by highway engineers.  We need to create something that's more holistic, working within the historic fabric of our community.  We did the other thing once, you see it behind us.  It didn't help us.  The second time around, we  hope we can do better."

Sutherland says the widening of the highway and addition of high-speed ramps would also de-value the millions of dollars of re-development in the city’s core over the past decade.  He says just one example is One Group Center.

"Imagine if you've just spend $10 million, maybe more, on this particular project and you hear that your front door will look right into an 8 lane highway," Sutherland said.  "Probably not the best thing."

Sutherland says numerous other properties would be impacted, either those already established or getting underway, through demolition or significant losses in property value.  He says the approach is flawed.

"Too much of the planning to date seems focused on those high speed, rural solutions when we've got very tight urban conditions that need different kinds of solutions."

He says Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Portland found sensible urban traffic solutions without forcing a highway through the middle of town.