State Dept. of Transportation Chooses Community Grid as Initial Recommendation for Interstate 81

Apr 22, 2019

The I-81 viaduct looking south as it passes through Syracuse.
Credit File Photo

 This is a developing story and will be updated.

The New York State Department of Transportation released its long awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Monday and named the Community Grid as its preferred alternative. The DOT says the decision was made after considering social, econoimc, and environmental effects as well as the need for safe and efficient transportation. 


The Community Grid project would demolish the exiting viaduct for a street level boulevard. The traffic would then be distributed traffic through the exiting grid in the city. The option has been supported by a number of community members such as Mayor Ben Walsh, the Syracuse City School District, and Syracuse University. 

Mayor Walsh said in a statement: 

"I am very glad that the DEIS is out, and I’m pleased that it identifies the Community Grid as the preferred alternative. The DEIS is the most comprehensive source for the facts and data our community needs to evaluate the project. My team and I will be closely reviewing the report in the days and weeks ahead, and the City will participate actively in the public engagement process to ensure that the needs and concerns of the people of the City of Syracuse and the entire region are considered by DOT."  

Save81, a group that has advocated for keeping the viaduct in its current form, has also released a statement after the release of the DEIS:

"We are pleased that the DOT is making this latest Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Interstate 81 project available for public inspection, unlike the previous DEIS version, which Save 81 was able to obtain only after six months of frustrating Freedom of Information requests.  We will submit this latest DEIS to the same intense, independent, professional scrutiny that the previous version saw, and report those findings to the public as soon as possible. We reiterate our support for uniting all segments of this community by maintaining Interstate 81’s current alignment in one form or another."

In a statement, Onondaga County said it is continuing to review the information in the DEIS:

"As the County Executive has said repeatedly, this is a decision that will have impacts across the County and region and it is critical that appropriate mitigation measures are also taken to minimize any potential negative impacts. We cannot allow a single decision to halt the momentum our community is experiencing."

A public hearing has yet to be scheduled, as part of a 45-day comment period.

PUBLIC COMMENTS CAN BE SUBMITTED TO:

  • Mark Frechette, PE, Project Director
    New York State Department of Transportation, Region 3
    333 East Washington Street
    Syracuse, New York 13202
  • Or individuals may email comments via the Project’s website: www.i81opportunities.org.
  • For more information, contact NYSDOT at the Project’s toll-free hotline, 1-855-I81-TALK (855-481-8255).

SYRACUSE COMMON COUNCILORS AND SUNY ESF SUPPORT COMMUNITY GRID

Earlier Monday, before the state’s DEIS was released, Syracuse common councilors made their voices clear on the future of I-81 by approving a resolution calling for a street level boulevard.  Fourth district councilor Latoya Allen says it marks the first time in the drawn-out debate that the council as a whole has taken a position. She says her constituents would be most affected by the state’s decision.

“I hear the concerns and I hear the uncertainties from the people that live in the area. They’ve been hearing this conversation for years now, and so it’s almost getting to the point where they don’t believe that it’s really going to happen and I’m like, yes it is.”

The only dissenting vote came from Joe Carni, who preferred that the city take a more hands-off approach given the regional impact of any option. He feels there are options that are palatable to the city, suburbs, and region.

“It’s not our decision here locally. This is the state telling us what we’re going to do and I think all of us have an understanding of the issues that come along with every single option.”

For example, he says the state has to improve the city’s roads if a grid is chosen.  The Draft environmental impact statement supporting the grid is only the first step in a continuing process.  Numerous public hearings will be held before a final impact statement is issued.

Support for a community grid just before the state came out with its initial recommendation also came from Interim President of SUNY ESF David Amberg.  If chosen by the state in its final decision, through traffic would be routed around the city and allow for more pedestrian and biking space. Amberg says the community engagement as well as the environmental impacts of the grid are too large to pass up.

“A number of faculty in the chemistry department have done careful analysis of the air around the viaduct and it’s not a good situation. And we believe that will be improved as well by the grid option.”

While there would be clear benefits to the rerouting of traffic, Amberg notes that the grid will help make Syracuse a more desirable place to live. He says the landscape architecture department at ESF looks at the grid as an opportunity for a fresh start for the city. In fact, he says the faculty is in unanimous support of the grid option. Amberg hopes residents will look at the grid and think of its potential.

“My faculty bring a tremendous expertise in environmental resource engineering like landscape architecture, environmental mitigation, and wetland restoration. Just a whole host of issues that if we engage my faculty, I think they can have an even more positive impact when we move toward this community grid option.”

Amberg’s support comes after Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud expressed his preference for a community grid last week.  Meanwhile, Cicero Town Supervisor Mark Venesky expressed his support Monday for a tunnel/grid option. He says the proposed boulevard would create bumper-to-bumper traffic and businesses in the suburbs would suffer.