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Leaders focus on design details to make community grid more than a roadway

A digital art picture shows the expected re-design of the Almond and Harrison street intersection in Syracuse is surrounded by medians filled with trees and sidewalks.
New York State Department of Transportation
A proposed re-design of the planned Almond and Harrison street intersection in Syracuse.

It might be hard to imagine what the community grid replacement for the I-81 roadway will look like, despite detailed renderings from state transportation officials. But, a visit from the Biden administration's infrastructure coordinator, Mitch Landrieu, and more information from the city's project director has given state and local leaders some insight on what to expect from the community grid.

"You can build something really beautiful that works really well, those two things aren't opposite of each other," Landrieu said. "Design produces outcomes."

Joe Driscoll, City of SyracuseI-81 projectdirector, said practical concerns can’t stop the project from becoming something more than a just roadway.

"We don't have to just focus on getting cars from point A to point B, we should be focused on design, making things beautiful, making things walkable, making things livable," Driscoll said. "That's been a big conversation right now, with all us of stakeholders involved, to say, 'how far can we take it with the design concepts to make this really aesthetically pleasing.'"

The city recently encouraged residents to suggest ideas to a design firm. Driscoll said conversations are ongoing with the New York State Department of Transportation regarding what can be adopted into the final design.

Meanwhile, Driscoll said most of his work involves seeking grant funding to help prepare the city and residents for other needs created by the $2.25 billion project.

"We just finished working really hard on the reconnecting communities grant," Driscoll said. "I'm working on the thriving communities grant right now, so looking at those federal pots of money nonstop and trying to figure out how do we get in the right cues for the federal funding and make sure that we're applying for the right grants at the right time, with the right concepts is a big part of my job and a big part of my concern."

Driscoll said Syracuse checks the boxes for most of the grants as a city divided by and facing inequity from previous transportation decisions.

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