6:39am

Wed September 18, 2013
Transportation

Rob Simpson of CenterState CEO: Think bigger on future of I-81

Rob Simpson, head of the economic booster organization CenterState CEO, has called on state transportation planners and central New Yorkers to think bigger when it comes to making the decision about the future of the elevated portion of Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse.

The 1.4 miles of elevated highway is beginning to crumble. Transportation planners are in the midst of a lengthy process to decide the final form of a redesigned I-81. Most debate has centered around rebuilding the viaduct through downtown or re-routing it around the city.

The debate polarized the community and lawmakers over the summer.

Simpson wrote an op-ed piece released Tuesday morning. In an interview with the Innovation Trail, he said the region has a tremendous opportunity to make its own development decision since it hasn't been dealt the final hand.

CenterState CEO's Rob Simpson.
Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO

"This decision belongs to us, not to anyone else," he said. "And we will get a good decision and a good outcome if we can work together and if we can agree on our priorities and if we can find common ground."

Local business owners, who Simpson's organization works with, have different views on I-81's future. Many have joined a new group called Save 81 that wants to see the highway keep its current path.

Simpson would not take sides, but said the city has an opportunity to reclaim downtown for green space and reduce the footprint of the thoroughfare.

In a long list of questions for transportation planners also released, Simpson raised several questions about the cost of the project - which will be in the ballpark of $1 billion - and where the funding will come from.

Here is Simpson's op-ed:

I-81: Opportunity of a Lifetime, by Rob Simpson