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Concerns Grow About I-81 Replacement Impact on Adjacent Low-Income Neighborhood

Scott Willis

There’s growing concern that the I-81 replacement will rupture the surrounding neighborhood, much like the highway did 60 years ago. The New York Department of Transportation has indicated it prefers to remove the elevated portion of the highway that runs through the old 15th Ward in favor of a boulevard. 

NYCLU Project Organizer David Rufus believes with no community input, the project will cause residents of the low-income housing complex to be displaced while the neighborhood they know becomes unrecognizable.

“81 up cut the community in half. They’re just taking 81 down. The community will still be divided. They’re not going to use 81 coming down to create a community that is inclusive. They’re going to use 81 coming down for an opportunity to destroy a community,” Rufus said.

Residents at a recent forum expressed concern about their health during construction, as well as the well-being and the safety of their children. Local parent Marie Scott fears the project will cause the removal of recreational areas, which could contribute to crime. 

Credit Gracyn Doctor / WAER News
These are just some of the questions and concerns raised by residents living near the I-81 viaduct about future construction.

“My hope would be that they would add additional resources. You can’t take away from a problem without adding a solution, so we need to have more of those resources, community centers. If they take away a pool or a basketball court, what are you doing in place of,” Scott said.

The NYCLU is working to develop a plan that raises awareness of the community’s concerns to the state DOT.  There is hope that this project could better the community, but not without the voices of those who live there.