I-81 Replacement Decision: How Much Might SU Chancellor's Position Influence Choice?

Apr 19, 2019

The elevated portion of I-81 through downtown would come down if the Community Grid option is selected.
Credit Scott Willis/WAER News

Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud is officially coming down on the side of the Community Grid Option for replacing Interstate 81.  His announcement Friday indicates the decision was made only after a great deal of research on the implications of each potential choice.  But now, with the draft environmental impact statement expected from the state, Syverud thought it time to lend his and the University's clout behind one of the options.

"This is because the I-81 replacement decision represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fundamentally transform the physical infrastructure that connects people and institutions, within and across our community," said Syverud in a release.

He says he has had numerous conversations with officials at the city, county and state level, as well as business leaders and those at other community organizations.  Syverud cites "social, economic and cultural" factors that weighed into the decision.  He indicates the Community Grid best meets the criteria the University considered most important.

SU Chancellor Kent Syverud
Credit syracuse.edu

These critical attributes include multiple access points to the highway and to University Hill; a robust connection between University Hill and downtown; enhanced public transportation and public space options; environmental and financial sustainability; and minimal disruption to housing, businesses and jobs, both during and after construction. 

It's not clear what influence the leader of a major institution here in Syracuse might have, just as the impact of elected officials on the final Department of Transportation decision is not known. Syverud joins local leaders such as Mayor Ben Walsh, Centerstate CEO, and other community groups , including one called Community for the Grid, in supporting some form of a community grid.  Meanwhile, leaders of some surrounding towns and villages, Assembly Member Bill Magnarelli and other groups, including Save 81, favor other methods, which could include a rebuild of the existing elevated portion or incorporating a tunnel.  

SU CHANCELLOR KENT SYVERUD'S STATEMENT

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

For many years now, the future of Interstate 81 has been one of the most discussed and debated topics within the City of Syracuse, and throughout Central New York. This is because the I-81 replacement decision represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fundamentally transform the physical infrastructure that connects people and institutions, within and across our community. 

To date, Syracuse University has not taken a formal position related to a specific I-81 replacement option. We were reluctant to endorse a specific replacement option because efforts to study and assess the implications of the various options—by New York State and numerous other stakeholder groups—were still in progress. Much of that work is now complete. 

Over the past year, I have engaged with city, county, state, business and community leaders related to the myriad of factors that could potentially inform Syracuse University’s position on the future of I-81. Further, I have solicited and received thoughtful input on this complex issue from faculty, staff and students representing the Syracuse University community. 

After careful consideration of the options, I believe we have met our obligation to rigorously investigate and evaluate the social, economic and cultural implications associated with each of the potential I-81 replacement options. Given what we have learned through this process, it is now appropriate for Syracuse University to publicly endorse the Community Grid as our preferred option to replace the existing I-81 viaduct.

It is my view that the Community Grid option most strongly aligns with the attributes and outcomes that Syracuse University previously endorsed as central to any I-81 replacement option. These critical attributes include multiple access points to the highway and to University Hill; a robust connection between University Hill and downtown; enhanced public transportation and public space options; environmental and financial sustainability; and minimal disruption to housing, businesses and jobs, both during and after construction. The Community Grid is best positioned to drive meaningful transformation across our community, and in the heart of our City. 

I thank all members of the Syracuse University and broader Central New York communities who shared their perspectives with me, as the University carefully assessed this complex issue. 

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kent Syverud