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No roundabout by Dr. King Elementary, DOT says in update on I-81 project

The I-81 Viaduct in Syracuse
WAER file photo
The I-81 Viaduct at Van Buren Street. This spot will become the roundabout in the viaduct replacement plan.

The New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) updated the I-81 replacement project plan, which includes a change highly requested by the community.   

 The updated project plan will start with replacing the I-81 viaduct, relocating the roundabout built near Dr. King Elementary School.  

“The public has spoken related to the roundabout, and DOT is listening,” said project director Mark Frechette.  

Frechette said the DOT received a surplus of feedback last year expressing concern about the impacts on kids at the school — the main factor that prompted the change. The DOT had been considering new locations since last fall when the public comment period closed.

The roundabout will be relocated about two blocks north on Van Buren Street closer to Syracuse University.

In a statement, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh voiced his support of the new plan.

"I appreciate that NYSDOT heard the concerns of the community on the proposed roundabout next to Dr. King Elementary School and I’m encouraged by their new plan to relocate it," Walsh said.

Rendering of the new proposed roundabout at Van Buren Street, part of the I-81 community grid replacement plan
A rendering of the new Van Buren Street roundabout revealed by the Department of Transportation

Regional director Dave Smith also reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to hiring local workers for the project.

“The contracts that we develop will include language to incentivize contractors to hire local talent,” he said. 

An incentive of $20 per hour will be offered to contractors if they hire people from specific local zip codes if they face certain barriers to employment. This is a collaboration between the DOT, the city of Syracuse and the Urban Jobs Task Force.

Frechette also said both the cost and timeline have increased: the price tag is now $2.25 billion and it is expected to take six years. Previous estimates had the project costing $2 billion and lasting five years. The changes account for a variety of risks, including increased cost of materials, supply chain issues and construction delays.

They’re hoping to break ground by the end of this year before ramping up work in 2023.

“It’s our plan that all of those contracts would be actively working where you’re going to see it, out in construction, by the springtime of next year,” Frechette said. 

The final environmental impact statement will be released to the public in the spring. The new I-81 could be complete by 2028.