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Onondaga County Town Supervisors: Community Grid To Replace I-81 Would "Fail Miserably"

John Smith

Town supervisors in Onondaga County are once again calling on state and federal transportation officials to consider a high-speed alternative for I-81 through the city of Syracuse. They say a grid-only plan would fail miserably. Gov. Cuomo recently committed $800 million toward the community grid option, which would replace the 1.5 mile viaduct through downtown Syracuse.

Clay Town Supervisor Damian Ulatowski says their voices have been all but ignored during the entire process.

“We should at least have an opportunity to sit at the table, so that our concerns can be raised with engineers and traffic designers to say, ‘Okay, yes, these are some concerns and this is how they can be mitigated,’” he said. “I’ve asked my colleagues if we’ve ever had that opportunity, ‘No, we haven’t had that opportunity,’ that’s why we’re here today.”

Ulatowski says they represent nearly 70% of the county’s population, yet their voices -those of Watertown, Cortland, and Binghamton - aren’t being heard. He says they’ve reached out numerous times to federal representatives, as well as the state and federal DOTs, and there’s been little to no response to their concerns. The supervisors say they’re not opposed to the grid, but suggest a high-speed option should also be available to carry through north-south traffic. Dewitt Deputy Town Supervisor Kerry Mannion says re-routing that traffic to I-481 will create too much congestion.

Credit WAER File Photo

“Damian (Ulatowski)’s town has one of the largest warehouses now just opening up, DeWitt has a smaller warehouse right at the exit of Kirkville Road. Nobody knows how that traffic is going to be affected, and it’s going to get worse if you take down 81,” Mannion said.

The supervisors say removing a high-speed link through Syracuse would decimate the hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that have sprouted up in the footprint of I-81 in Salina over the past few decades. They say federal relief funds present an opportunity to “do it right” for all residents, not just Syracuse. A final decision on the I-81 replacement is expected this summer.

John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.
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