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Syracuse Residents March For Justice For I-81 Ahead Of NYS DOT Hearings

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Scott Willis
Urban Jobs Task Force President Deka Dancil addresses the crowd at the rally.

Dozens of Syracuse advocates and community residents marched from Martin Luther King, Jr. school to the state office building over the weekend demanding justice for those living near the I-81 viaduct. They want to make sure their voices are heard ahead of this week’s public hearings on the replacement project.

"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
"Now!" chanted the crowd.

Deka Dancil is president of the Urban Jobs Task Force, one of at least a dozen organizations represented at Saturday’s rally.

"This is our last chance as a community to come out, make a public statement, and share our demands with the DOT You're going to hear us this time. We don't want to give them any excuse to say we weren't loud enough or that they didn't hear us. No, we're here, we've been organizing for years, we have thousands of comments and petition signatures that we're going to submit to them."

She says they’re calling for racial, economic, and environmental justice as the state DOT accepts comments on the latest draft of a proposal to replace the viaduct with a community grid. Dancil told the crowd that the DOT needs to consider the legacy of the highway’s role in contributing to poverty among black and brown residents.

"The original I-81 destroyed our communities, and we also now know that those two things are correlated. The racial and economic segregation and disparities that exist today are partially due to I-81. But nothing has been done to make sure that we'll benefit from these opportunities and that they're going to right these wrongs."

Lanessa Chaplin is Project Counsel with the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"So, we all agree the viaduct has got to go, right or wrong?"
"Yes!" the crowd responded.

"However, it has to come down in a fair way. It has to come down in a way that the people impacted the most, the black and brown people who live in that community, are not again forgotten. That's why we're having this march, that's why we're working so hard because we're trying elevate their voice and our voice, because we're from this community."

While the groups agree with the DOT’s plan to take down the viaduct, they do take issue with the proposed roundabout that will handle exiting northbound highway traffic before it turns into a boulevard. They say the rotary is too close to Martin Luther King school, and will post pollution problems similar to that of the existing highway. Virtual I-81 public sessions will be held Tuesday at 11 and 5. The link can be found here.
The DOT is also holding in-person hearings at the Oncenter Wednesday at 4 and 6 p.m.

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Scott Willis

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