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What Consensus? Suburban Leaders Continue To Push Back Against Grid-Only I-81 Replacement, Introduce "Skyway" Option

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dot.ny.gov
The I-81 viaduct looking south as it cuts through Syracuse.

Elected officials in Syracuse’s northern suburbs are pushing back against the assertion that there’s county-wide consensus around the community grid replacement for the I-81 viaduct. There was little to no acknowledgement at Tuesday’s visit by the Secretary of Transportation that there’s strong opposition to the elimination of the high-speed route through the heart of Syracuse.

To hear it from Senator Chuck Schumer on Tuesday, many might believe the larger Onondaga County community has coalesced around the grid.

"I want to salute the entire community for coming together on a plan we can all support. You have come together, now we have to bring the funding, and we will," Schumer said to applause and cheers.

But Town of Salina First Ward Councilor Nick Paro disagrees.

"There isn't consensus. The community has not come together around a solution. We're still working on a solution."

He says the leaders and residents of 19 towns and villages in the county don't want the viaduct torn down.

"We're on board for a community grid, but there needs to be a separate alternative, what we're starting to coin 'the grid plus skyway.'"

He says the skyway or skybridge would be much higher than the current viaduct and keep the community grid underneath, reestablishing neighborhood connectivity and maintaining high speed traffic flow to the north. Paro says the Town of Salina stands to lose as much as $350,000 in tax revenue a year due to the estimated 50 percent decrease in assessed value of the hotels and restaurants that have grown up around the highway.

"We've literally stood there and said 'this is what we're facing,' and we've just been ignored. We've been told 'your concerns are not realistic. The issues that you're raising don't really exist.'"

Paro says they’re still waiting for the results of an economic impact study from the state. But he feels the response will continue to be dismissive…instead of inviting them to the table and working out a solution that benefits everyone. Senator Schumer insists there will be more opportunity for input under the various funding components.

"After the grant is given, the law requires community consultation, and there is adequate opportunity to make changes to deal with some of the issues that still might not have been satisfied when the application was submitted."

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg added it’s not the US DOT’s role to put a thumb on the scale for one alternative versus another. However, he says any plan must meet all equity, environmental, public health, and local hiring considerations.

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file photo
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WAER News
Onondaga County Town Supervisors gathered in April to continue to advocate for a high-speed alternative to the community grid.