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Proponents Of Community Grid-Only I-81 Replacement Plan Say "Skybridge" Idea Will Go Nowhere

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Scott Willis
/
WAER News
Onondaga County Legislator Vernon Williams Jr. is Joined by Mayor Ben Walsh at right, and Sen. Rachel May and fellow legislator Mary Kuhn, left, as well as other supporters of a grid-only plan. They're in Wilson Park, near Pioneer Homes, with the aging I-81 viaduct behind them.

Elected officials and community members in Syracuse are pushing back hard against a so-called Skybridge proposal by some suburban leaders who claim the viaduct replacement would complement the community grid. Supporters of the grid-only plan gathered in Wilson Park, in the shadow of the aging viaduct, to show their solidarity. Onondaga County Legislator Vernon Williams Junior says the Skybridge idea is nothing but an elevated highway with lipstick.

"Supporters of the skybridge somehow suggest that it serves as a mechanism to facilitate prosperity to the same community that the bridge destroyed. This is completely disingenuous, deceptive, and insulting to the community existing in the shadow of the current structure. The skybridge is not a complement nor enhancement to the community grid."

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh also didn't mince words. He says the grid plan was chosen by the DOT as the preferred alternative based on merits. Walsh says the last minute proposal of another bridge is intended to distract and disinform the community.

"It is unconscionable that people at this stage of the same would be perpetuating this pie-in-the-sky idea as a legitimate proposal. It is not. There are legitimate concerns that people have first and foremost in this neighborhood that need to be addressed."

Wilson Park is in Pioneer Homes, which is bisected by the viaduct. Onondaga County Legislator Mary Kuhn calls the skybridge idea a frantic attempt to delay and confuse the public.

"The bridge idea has been studied and dismissed as not meeting the needs and the goals of addressing the economic, social, and environmental issues that this project is meant to correct."

State Senator Rachel May also weighed in, noting their location.

"Here we are in a park with a pool and a playground and a basketball court and kids on the swings over there. If you believe this environment with cars and trucks speeding by is the right environment, then you don't care about our kids."

The leaders say state officials have already considered, and rejected a replacement viaduct after years of study. At the same time, they acknowledge the grid plan has its flaws and are working to change parts of it, including a proposed ramp right near Martin Luther King Junior School. The leaders say the focus should also be on putting local residents to work on the project, and ensuring any land freed up by the highway’s demolition is put under local control for future development.

The state is expected to release an updated draft environmental impact statement soon, after which there will be a public hearing. Proponents of the skybridge or other high-speed route through the city hope that’s when state officials will finally begin to listen to their concerns. Leaders from the town of Salina say they’ve been ignored by the state DOT, even though the town stands to lose the most if I-81 is replaced with a grid-only design.

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Scott Willis
The I-81 viaduct looking north as it passes very closely by Pioneer Homes. The northbound offramp to Adams Street can be seen in the background.