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Syracuse residents want more protections during I-81 construction, NYCLU says

 Cars drive underneath the I-81 viaduct in downtown Syracuse.
Daniel Lobo
Wikimedia Commons
Cars drive underneath the I-81 viaduct in downtown Syracuse.

Advocates are calling on the state to better protect Syracuse residents living near Interstate 81 from the impacts of the upcoming construction project. The New York Civil Liberties Union outlined concerns and proposed resolutions in a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation and Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, director of NYCLU’s environmental justice project, said she wants to see the state include relocation assistance in the final I-81 project plan, called a record of decision.

"If there are residents or vulnerable community members that can't withstand living 3 feet from a major construction site for several years, then they should have that option and have some resources provided that will allow them to relocate," she said.

The NYCLU is also proposing the DOT conduct a community needs health assessment to better identify populations who may have pre-existing conditions, especially children and the elderly.

Chaplin said the transportation agency should also has establish a lead testing and mitigation program for lead paint dust that could occur when the viaduct is demolished — one in six African American children in the area has experienced lead poisoning, one of the highest rates in the nation.

"We want to go in with a very proactive plan of how are we going to address the potential of harm to a community that's already experiencing harm," she said.

The NYCLU collected hundreds of resident signatures this weekend to show the public's support for lead abatement efforts, relocation benefits, the needs assessment and additional health protections. The organization plans to submit the petition to the state agency.

Chaplin said she is optimistic transportation officials will respond because they've previously adjusted plans in response to community concerns. In April, The DOT announced it relocated a planned roundaboutafter people complained it was too close to a local elementary school.

"They're also creating an air monitoring program where they're going to be monitored on a daily basis to make sure that the air stays healthy for the community they moved the highway east away from STEAM at Dr. King which is also a huge win," Chaplin said, referencing the nearby elementary school.

Another big neighborhood gain is the creation of a community land working group, which Chaplin said gives residents the opportunity to think of ways to rebuild their neighborhoods.

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