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Work is underway on the next phase of the I-81 replacement project

I-81 looking south at the exit to Genant St. The Spencer St. bridge and St. Joseph's Health are in the distance. June 14, 2024.
Scott Willis
I-81 looking south at the exit to Genant St. The Spencer St. bridge and St. Joseph's Health are in the distance. June 14, 2024.

Work is underway on the third phase of the I-81 project, which includes the highway and roads surrounding Syracuse’s Inner Harbor. The state DOT needs city permission to access right-of-way for the duration of construction. Project Director Betsy Parmley told common councilors Friday that they’ll honor all city ordinances.

“Whether it's decorative lighting, whether it's Dig Once, where we go in and replace water mains because we don't want to have to go back," Parmley said. "Sidewalk dimensions based on city ordinances, trees and the soil that's related to the trees worked with the arborists.”

The state will replace the Court, Spencer, and Bear Street bridges, as well as consolidate on-and-off ramps in what Parmley calls the dangerous "canyon" corridor. Deputy Project Director Mike Ryan says the DOT will work on one bridge at a time in order to minimize traffic congestion and reduce emergency response delays. He says the DOT will also rebuild several adjacent city streets, including the infrastructure underneath.

“We're going to install a lot of new storm drainage throughout the whole project area for the city," Ryan said. "We're also installing a lot of new water lines throughout the project area. We're also going to install some new sewer lines. We're upgrading all of the signals along the Bear Street corridor.”

Bear Street is the state’s designated link between I-81 and I-690 to the west. Parmley says they’ll continue to monitor air quality, noise, and vibration during this phase of the project.

“For example, the Bear Street Bridge will have a special containment system to reduce, potentially eliminate the spread of like lead paint particles and things like that. But will also have a person who will oversee this monitoring, who does not work for the contractor, that will be great for the Community that there'll be an independent person overseeing environmental monitoring.”

Common councilors are expected to approve the right-of-way agreement with the DOT at Monday’s meeting. The DOT is holding an open house June 27 at OneGroup on North Clinton Street adjacent to Genant Street and the southbound lanes of I-81.

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