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Syracuse Common Councilors call for city control of extra land from I-81 project
The I-81 viaduct as it crosses through the city in this undated photo.

Syracuse Common Councilors are calling on New York State to return any extra land from the I-81 viaduct replacement project to city control.  The city wants to be in the driver’s seat if property is available after the highway is converted to a surface street.  
Council President Helen Hudson says they want to be proactive and make sure their voices are heard now that ground has officially been broken on the project.

“I'm hoping that they will listen to the legislators from this area because we know that it could easily go to developers which cause it's prime property now and that's not what we want to see happen.”

Joe Driscoll is the City’s I-81 project director. He says they want to reverse decades of social, economic, and environmental damage.

“When the when the project first started, the local voices were all ignored and we see the results that that has netted us the destruction of homes really entrenched generational poverty," Driscoll said. "If we're going to dig our way out of this, we really need local voices at the forefront being the city government and folks from the community.”

A man in a navy blue suit speaks behind a lectern as others stand behind him on steps.
Scott Willis
Syracuse's I-81 Project Director Joe Driscoll delivers remarks from the steps of city hall Aug. 14, 2023.

Driscoll says about 15 to 20 acres could be available for development. That might include affordable and mixed income housing, retail, and other amenities that were bulldozed when I-81 was built. Former council president Van Robinson first began researching the impact of pollution from the viaduct as a concerned citizen in the late 1970’s. He was one of the first to call for the removal of the highway nearly 25 years ago as an elected official.

“So now my fellow citizens and friends," he told those gathered in front of city hall, "It's time to have the state of New York and the federal government return, through our local government, the city of Syracuse, the property stolen from our city and its residents more than 50 years ago.”

City officials say they’re not sure what the state will decide. Joe Driscoll says they could simply hand over the land, or sell it to the city at a reduced price. Both the common council and Mayor Ben Walsh have expressed their desires in writing and in person to state DOT officials and the Hochul Administration.

A man in a gray suit speaks behind a lectern as several people stand behind him on steps.
Scott Willis
Former Syracuse Common Council President Van Robinson addresses a crowd gathered in front of city hall Aug. 14, 2023.

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