Onondaga County Legislature to Support Hybrid Option for I-81

Feb 27, 2015

A majority of Onondaga County lawmakers will likely approve a resolution next week that supports a hybrid design to replace Interstate 81 in Syracuse. 

The legislature’s proposal will include an option that can handle both through and local traffic, Chairman Ryan McMahon said. “It could include a depressed highway with a street level or a viaduct with a street level.”  

The I-81 viaduct at the I-690 interchange as seen from the top floor of the Crown Plaza Hotel.
Credit Scott Willis, WAER News

After receiving input from stakeholders in villages and towns throughout the county, a hybrid design is the best option, McMahon said.

“We’ve been engaged from the beginning. This was a regional decision. And I think that this legislature is the most representative body in this community from all the constituencies at play.” 

The legislature’s resolution differs from the one approved by the Common Council last month, which calls for a boulevard to replace the viaduct. That’s because an at-grade option won’t accommodate through traffic, McMahon said.   

The biggest concern with the hybrid plan, McMahon said, is that it will cost too much. But, he added, the cost and funding sources are still unknown, while the worries about a boulevard are more certain.  

The I-81 viaduct as seen from Almond and E. Genesee Streets.
Credit Scott Willis, WAER News

“In looking just at a boulevard option, to me, doesn’t make sense because you’re at least risking the traffic flow and the functionality of what’s currently there,” McMahon said, adding that he wants all options to be included in state DOT’s final scoping draft.    

Traditionally, the federal government covers nearly all of the cost, with the state picking up the rest of the tab.  

Legislator Dave Knapp, who represents the southern part of Onondaga County, described concerns about a boulevard replacement from a constituent in Tully, whose son went into cardiac arrest.

“And she says, ‘As I was driving down 81, following the ambulance.’  She says, ‘it’s crazy, but all I could think about was holy cow, what would we do if we were having to stop at stoplights through the city to get to St. Joe’s? And how much longer it would take and what would be the impact on my son who’s having a heart attack,’” he said.

He also worries if through traffic is eliminated, then it would force truck traffic from the south to use local roads to access the thruway westbound, because I-481 swings too far east, Knapp said. 

The DOT is expected to release its final list of options by late spring.