I-81 viaduct project in Syracuse eliminates tunnel option

Oct 6, 2016

As the Interstate 81 viaduct through downtown Syracuse comes to the end of its useful life, the state’s alternatives are down to two options: the viaduct reconstruction or community grid. The third option of a tunnel was dropped from consideration.

Gene Cilento from the New York State Department of Transportation said the tunnel would have taken 7-10 years to complete and disrupted traffic for the entire construction duration.

“At $3.1 billion, it’s quite a bit more than either the community grid or the viaduct reconstruction option," Cilento said. "In addition to that, because of the soils underground, a lot of clay soil, a lot of wet soil, it is tough to just build a tunnel.”

Gary Holmes, the director of communications for the state DOT said they are further analyzing the viaduct reconstruction and community grid options.

"So you’ve got a viaduct alternative which essentially stays on the same footprint or alignment but modernizes what is there currently. The community grid rethinks or re-imagines what is there currently. It is more of a boulevard-type design. The aspect there would be connectivity, more community involvement," Holmes said.

With the two options remaining, Mark Frechette, the director of the I-81 Viaduct Project, said reconstructing the viaduct would focus on safety improvements such as widening the shoulders, allowing longer on and off-ramps and creating areas for emergency services.

“The viaduct needs to expand and really that’s the reason why there’s impact to real estate," Frechette said. "To bring it up to standards, to correct a lot of safety issues, we need to do those kind of things.”

The viaduct reconstruction would need to acquire 24 buildings while the community grid would acquire five buildings. Frechette said the community grid eliminates about one mile of the elevated I-81 viaduct in downtown Syracuse. Through traffic would either be diverted to Interstate 481 or to the downtown streets.   
"And brings things down to the community level and takes advantage of the north, south routes that currently exist, to be able to put traffic on them and serve the downtown businesses, serve the universities, get people to the hospitals," Frechette said.

Before a final decision is made, the state will release an environmental impact statement on the two options in early 2017.