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Gillibrand joins Syracuse leaders in support of community grid replacement for I-81 viaduct

A woman wearing a red scarf stands behind a podium speaking as a crowd listens.
Scott Willis
/
WAER
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks to community members at Wilson Park in Syracuse as traffic roars by on the viaduct on Nov. 22, 2022.

Dozens of elected officials and community members gathered in the shadow of the I-81 viaduct in Syracuse on Tuesday to rally support for the community grid replacement.

A New York Supreme Court judge granted a restraining order requested by Renew 81 For All to stop the I-81 project until a lawsuit proceeds through court.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sharply criticized the temporary legal hold on the project. She said the restraining order is an ill-conceived and baseless lawsuit that will needlessly cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

"It will stall progress on more than $2 billion of investment into this community and our local economy," Gillibrand said. "It will delay training, jobs and opportunities for local residents, especially in our Black and Brown communities that have been deeply impacted by I-81 while the highway itself continues to literally fall apart."

Gillibrand said the project and its alternatives have been discussed for more than a decade, and it's imperative to keep it on track.

Tarra Harris has lived in Syracuse public housing near the I-81 viaduct her entire life and is a board member of Blueprint 15. The group is working with residents, community partners and local leaders to rebuild the 15th Ward community, which was destroyed by the highway.

"We need more connectivity," Harris said. "It's like we're on this side; we have everybody else on the other side. I would like to put the neighbor back in neighborhood once and for all," she said to cheers and applause.

But those who signed on to the lawsuit say they have legitimate reasons to demand a pause. County Legislator Charles Garland said a community grid wouldn't address environmental and health concerns. His funeral home is located near the viaduct. He said the state and federal agencies still need to do environmental testing on the Southside.

"They say that they want to save us from all this elevated traffic, the carcinogens," Garland said. "It's a known fact: They're going to redirect the same traffic overhead, toxins, pollutants, carcinogens that they say are killing us, right back into the African American, the Southside community."

He said the neighborhood has high rates of upper respiratory illness and cancer. The first oral arguments will be on Jan. 12.

A crowd of people surround a woman speaking at a podium.
Scott Willis
/
WAER
Pioneer Homes can be seen behind the viaduct. The highway divided the public housing neighborhood.

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 srwillis@syr.edu.