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Advocates: Lifting Of Federal Ban On Local Hiring For I-81 Project "A Big Deal"

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One of the biggest barriers to achieving local hiring goals for the I-81 replacement project in Syracuse has come down, and advocates couldn’t be more pleased.  We learned Wednesday that the Biden administration has lifted the ban on local hiring for federal transportation projects as part of a pilot program. 

President of the Urban Jobs Task Force Deka Dancil says  it's been years in the making.  She says the state DOT’s hands are no longer tied, but they still have to apply and get approved.

"Basically if this ban was still in place, they wouldn't be able to put in any local hiring goals.  The reason why the I-81 Big Table exists is mainly because of that federal ban.  We were trying to find innovative solutions to work around the ban and other barriers, and be able to maximize local hire on the project."

An I-81 Big Table meeting was held last August with government, business, and community stakeholders where they addressed best practices in local hiring, especially among disadvantaged or underrepresented groups. But Dancil says more could be done on the congressional level.   For example, she says Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s “Build local, Hire Local Act” introduced in the previous Congress would complete the circle.

"Just because you remove the federal ban doesn't make all the players fall in line.  The Build Local, Hire Local Act has a lot to do with racial and economic justice around the harms that were done around through federal infrastructure projects."

…including the I-81 viaduct when it was built through Syracuse’s 15th ward, home to a poor yet vibrant African American community.   Dancil says now, without the federal hiring barrier, the task force can start to “right the wrongs.”

"If the [NYS] DOT is going to apply, which I'm hoping they will, we don't have to do that part of it anymore, and we can focus on upscaling the workforce.  That's the next piece...getting funding for training and getting people trained and recruited into apprenticeship prorgrams."

Dancil says hopefully that paves a path to securing Community Workforce and Project Labor agreements.  She says she looks forward to working with elected and community leaders to make sure the promise of federal action on I-81 is tangible and transformational for Syracuse.

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