1:06pm

Tue August 6, 2013
Transportation

Transportation planners move forward with next step for I-81

After a few weeks delay, transportation planners in central New York are moving forward with the next step in the lengthy process of deciding Interstate 81's fate in downtown Syracuse.

The 1.4 mile stretch of elevated highway through downtown, known as the viaduct, is reaching the end of its useable lifespan.

On Monday, the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council approved a $32 million study as part of the next phase of the project. This coming after a lengthy public engagement process and studies by SMTC itself.

The SMTC was supposed to approve the study last month, but Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald pulled the request amid criticism that the D.O.T. was moving forward too quickly with a narrowed set of options. (The SMTC studies deemed rebuilding the elevated highway or re-routing it and putting an urban boulevard in its place as the two most feasible options.)

This next study will look at all the originally proposed options, according to D.O.T. officials. It will narrow those options most likely down to one and then conduct an environmental impact study. During that process, D.O.T. says it will conduct numerous public engagement efforts, including a web site and community working groups.

Last week a coalition of business owners and suburban lawmakers formed a group to lobby for I-81 to keep its current path – versus re-routing it around the city. Save81.org already has 1,000 members, the group reported Monday morning.

"I think they're making a mountain out of a molehill," said Syracuse Common Council President and SMTC board member Van Robinson today of businesses in the group, like Destiny USA. Robinson is one of the most staunch advocates for the highway coming down.

"It is a destination. It will remain a destination and the number of people that will bypass them will be minimal, if any," he said of the mall.

A final decision on I-81 is still years off. D.O.T. has set 2017 as a target date, when the viaduct hits 50 years old.

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