Brushing off concerns it may be too little, too late, a new group of business owners and lawmakers has formed to oppose the seemingly narrowed options for the next incarnation of Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse.
Save 81 launched Thursday to call for more options for what to do about the aging 1.4 mile stretch of I-81 through the city. While the group is opposed to the "urban boulevard" idea pushed for by many city residents, it said it has no "pre-ordained design" as an alternative.
There are several business owners from both the suburbs and the city in the group. They say rerouting traffic will steer their customer base away from them.
"For my business, [I-81] means customers can easily get to my business and other businesses located in Syracuse and Armory Square," said T. John Goodman, owner of Sweet On Chocolate.
Many city residents and officials say the elevated highway, known as a viaduct, is choking economic growth downtown and divides neighborhoods. The roadway carries tens of thousands of cars every day.
Debate over I-81 has grown more heated ever since transportation planners deemed two of the five original options for I-81 more "feasible" than others. One of those includes the boulevard with the interstate rerouted to I-481, which goes around the city. The other is to rebuild the elevated highway.
The viaduct is beginning to crumble and is nearing the end of its useful lifespan, transportation officials say. It will be 50 years old in 2017.
Save 81 and others charge the D.O.T. is preemptively narrowing options and leaning more towards the boulevard - a charge D.O.T. Commissioner Joan McDonald denies, but she has slowed the process a tad.
Business owners and elected officials in suburban Syracuse worry diverting the highway will cripple the businesses that have gone up along it.
"In Salina’s case, cut off the northern suburbs [and] our tax base is gone. Our ability to attract new businesses is gone," said Town Supervisor Mark Nicotra. "And that’s what we’re trying to maintain."
The names of some more prominent lawmakers, like area U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, appeared on the group's website for a short time this morning and were then removed, according to the Associated Press. A spokesman said a "glitch" caused the error, the AP reports. Maffei has been among those calling on the state D.O.T. to consider more options.
A decision on I-81's future is still not expected for another four years, on the viaduct's 50th birthday.