New series of public meetings being held to decide I-81's future

Sep 25, 2013

New York state is holding another round of meetings regarding a topic that could change the face of Syracuse. The Department of Transportation begins a series of neighborhood sessions on Wednesday meant to get more feedback on the future of the Interstate 81 viaduct through downtown Syracuse.

The first of eight neighborhood meetings is taking place in the shadow of the interstate, at Toomey Abbott Towers on Syracuse's south side, a two block walk from the elevated Interstate. Transportation department officials say the sessions are designed to give residents a chance to learn about the ongoing environmental review process and how they can get involved.  

Closely watching the process will be State Senator John DeFrancisco.

"The input is there," DeFrancisco said. "The question is the output. Are people really being listened to? That's what I really want to keep an eye on, because I want to make sure everyone is listened to, and there is a compromise that's the best possible compromise."

The issue of how to replace the viaduct has been divisive. DeFrancisco hopes the state can find some kind of compromise between the two most prominent options; tearing down the viaduct while re-routing traffic around Syracuse, or replacing it in it's current footprint. He thinks one compromise could be a below-grade highway, similar to a configuration he recently saw in Buffalo.

"It wasn't a tunnel," DeFrancisco said. "It was simply a lower dug highway that stayed quick like 81, stayed an interstate. And instead of what we do now on 81 - we get off 81, and we go down the exits - there, you go up. And you can have as many bridges you want to maintain the continuity of the community. I don't see why that's not one of the most talked about options."

The state Department of Transportation has already held a series of meetings on the issue, and continues to get more input for the ongoing environmental review process. The state says the viaduct will reach the end of it's life span in 2017.