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State DOT Leaders Detail Plans for the Community Grid Replacing I-81

Scott Willis / WAER News

The state Department of Transportation officials overseeing the planned street grid to replace Interstate 81 viaduct in Syracuse took time Wednesday to clarify some details and stress the benefits of the nearly $2 billion project.  The recommendation came Monday as part of a 15,000 page report on the project’s social, economic, and environmental impacts.

DOT Regional Director Dave Smith wanted to make it clear that the commute to downtown and University Hill will be much the same as it is today, if not better.

"The idea is when people get to the downtown area they'll have more options to use the street grid which we're going to improve. So that'll help remove some of the load that is on some of those intersections like Adams and Almond that are very busy today."

The part of the highway between the current I-481 interchanges would be called the I-81 business loop, providing high-speed access to I-690 from the north, and Martin Luther King Dr. from the south.  In between would be a new 1.2 mile boulevard.  Project Director Mark Frechette says the state will cover the cost of rebuilding the many streets linked to the project.

"Almond St., both Crouse and Irving. We have plans to convert Adams and Harrison to two-way. So we'll be touching those and doing work on those. The West St. interchange gets totally redone."

Officials say the start of construction is still about two years away.  A public information meeting, followed by hearings will be held this summer.  The final plan, including financing, should be in place by late 2020. 

When construction begins, Frechette says the DOT expects construction to take five years, but that's from start to finish.

"That does not mean that there is five years of construction outside of your home or outside of your business. What that means is, in and around say the University Hill area or the South Side, that'd be compressed down to a much smaller time frame."

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Posters on display at Wednesday's press conference provided a visual representation of the community grid alternative.

Traffic Implications

Frechette points out that the grid will improve both safety and traffic operations. He says the project will allow for greater access into the city and create direct routes to major destinations. Frechette also mentioned that the grid project will require fewer commercial buildings to be acquired in order for completion when compared to the viaduct or tunnel. 

Listen to Project Director Mark Frechette detail how the grid will allow for more access into the city and relieve traffic congestion.

Construction Timeline

Fechette says ideally the project's work on Interstate 481 will be completed first, but reiterated that all of the forthcoming construction will require lots of coordination. Regional Director Dave Smith expressed a desire for the project to create jobs for local residents.

Listen to Project Director Mark Frechette describe his ideal timeline for the project's construction work. Regional Director Dave Smith then answers a question about job creation.

University Hill

Frechette acknowledges that the grid option was not designed with major events in mind, but instead for everyday use. He believes the grid will create more options for commuters traveling to The Hill. 

Listen to Project Director Mark Frechette details the benefits the grid will have for commuters to University Hill.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at