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Residents Living Near I-81 Viaduct Seek Racial, Environmental, And Economic Justice With Community Grid Proposal

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Scott Willis
Ryedell Davis speaks to the crowd gathered between Syracuse City Hall and the state office building. The I-81/I-690 interchange can be seen in the distance.

Those who live or used to live near the I-81 viaduct are calling on the state DOT not to repeat the same mistakes from 60 years ago as plans move forward with the proposed community grid replacement.  They’re making their voices heard about environmental, racial, and economic justice ahead of virtual and in person public hearings this week. 

One of the new features raising concerns is a proposed roundabout that will handle exiting northbound highway traffic. Residents say it’s too close to Dr. King School, and will pose pollution problems similar to that of the existing highway. Ryedell Davis grew up in Pioneer Homes and attended the school.

"I thought asthma was something normal, going to the hospital 3 or 4 times a month...until I realized those toxins coming from the cars so close to the area was messing all of us up. By about 6th grade, we moved to the valley, and I noticed my asthma got a lot better...less frequent visits to the doctors. By 8th grade, they told me I didn't have asthma anymore."

Tashia raised four sons in the shadow of the viaduct, and still lives in the neighborhood.

"My youngest son had terrible asthma. We spent multiple nights at University Hospital to the point where the provider would stay after her shift because my son's asthma was that bad."

Advocates who gathered over the weekend say Dr. King school has a 30 percent asthma rate, nearly triple the city average.

They also want to make sure the 18 acres of land freed up by a community grid plan doesn’t lead to displacement by gentrification. Lanessa Chaplin is project counsel with the NYCLU.

"When the land becomes available, you return the land to the community that you took it from!" she said to applause and cheers.

Emo Henderson is owner of JHP Industrial Supply, which could benefit from the project.

"We don't need DOT to come in here to designate someone from the department of transportation to tell us what we need to with our land. We need to do that, the community."

Virtual public hearings take place Tuesday at 11 and 5. You can register here if you want to comment. In person hearings will be held at the Oncenter Wednesday at 4 and 6 p.m.

But opponents of the community grid want to pause the public comment period. Salina first ward councilor Nick Paro says in a release that the process should be slowed down given Governor Cuomo’s resignation. He says it was under Cuomo’s misguided leadership that the DOT took "such an aggressive approach to fast tracking the public review process." But he also says the state has ignored the concerns of residents and business owners for over a decade.

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Scott Willis
Deka Dancil with the Urban Jobs Task Force places petitions inside a bin to be delivered to the state DOT.

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