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Virtual Hearing Kicks Off NYS DOT Public Comment Period For Latest Draft Plan To Replace I-81 Viaduct

The I-81 viaduct as it passes within an arm's reach of Pioneer Homes.
Scott Willis
The I-81 viaduct as it passes within an arm's reach of Pioneer Homes. Scroll down to see a rendering of a similar view without the viaduct.

About 70 people turned out for Tuesday’s first virtual public hearing on the revised draft of the replacement for I-81 viaduct.  Several expressed skepticism of the DOT’s studies and data used to justify the community grid as the preferred alternative. 

The hearing began with a computer generated and narrated presentation, part of which seemed aimed addressing some of the economic concerns raised by those to the north of the viaduct if a high speed route through the city was eliminated. The DOT says it conducted a detailed study that found changes in traffic under a grid plan would have only a small effect on the highway dependent businesses north of downtown.

"Many of these businesses like Destiny USA and hotels are somewhat resilient to changes in traffic because they are planned destinations for travelers, rather than spontaneous stops along the way," said the virtual narrator.

Fred Wagner disagrees. He's former Chief Counsel to the Federal Highway Administration representing Destiny USA.

"Nobody from the state, nobody from FHA consulted with my client, nor as far as we know, with any of the major businesses in and around the area. How can that create a fair economic impact assessment, and how can the conclusion that there would only be minor disruptions be supported, as was stated earlier."

Wagner called the DOT’s latest draft plan "arbitrary and capricious" and "flawed and erroneous" because, among other things, he says it relies on outdated traffic data. He says it doesn't take into account the Amazon warehouse going up in Clay. Wagner and others urged the DOT to consider extending the comment period.

Michael Bome of Marietta wondered if the DOT has taken into account the traffic impact in rural areas.

"What have these studies shown regarding the increase of commercial traffic exiting at Cortland, Preble, Tully, or LaFayette, passing through Scott, Spafford, Tully, Marietta, and Skaneateles to get to the Thruway west."

Meanwhile, supporters of the community grid also weighed in. They urged the DOT to heed their calls for local hiring, incorporating public and alternative transportation options within the grid, and minimizing noise, pollution, and traffic detours for those most directly impacted by construction. They also were likely reassured by a commitment to include the city, school district, economic development organizations, the business community, environmental justice advocates, residents, and other stakeholders on how to use 10-12 acres of property that will be freed up by the community grid.

"NYS DOT will form a land use working group to provide input to DOT in establishing a framework for the non transportation use of each potential surplus parcel."

The DOT also seemed to make a commitment local hiring. They’ve already partnered with the department of labor on one program that aims to train and connect local workers with I-81 jobs, and there’s another running at the SUNY Education Opportunity Center. DOT is also collaborating with the city and the Syracuse Build program.

In-person hearings will be held tomorrow at the Oncenter Wednesday at 4 and 6 pm.

This rendering shows how it might look with a street level boulevard.
This rendering shows how it might look with a street level boulevard.

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