ESF faculty offer arguments in favor of community grid I-81 replacement option

Future of 81

On Monday, SUNY ESF staff and officials met with the New York State Department of Transportation to go over data about the community grid replacement option for Interstate 81.

The college, as well as Upstate and Syracuse University, have endorsed the community grid option.

“The state team shared a high-level view of the data analysis involving the Community Grid option. The plan is impressive. We came away feeling quite positive about how the plan deals with traffic and environmental concerns. Based on a data-driven approach, this Community Grid plan will better distribute ingress and egress to and from the city and decompress currently failing intersections. Furthermore, it is much more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and is a move in the right direction to begin to address social justice issues related to the bisection of the historic 15th Ward. There is no question this is the choice that is best for Syracuse and the region,” ESF interim president David Amberg said in a statement. 

ESF scientists, designers and engineers have released the following arguments in favor of the community grid option: 

  • Removing the viaduct and replacing it with a street grid will serve as notice that Syracuse and Onondaga County choose to join the ranks of progressive cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Montreal that are removing elevated highways, strengthening their tax bases and inviting people of all backgrounds to build a vibrant community. Closer to home, Rochester and Buffalo are tackling their urban corridors within the context of aggressive urban planning. If Syracuse does not keep pace, our western neighbors will out-compete us with regard to economic development and long-term community cohesion.
  • The tunnel option is simply too costly and will take too long to construct. It is an ill-conceived investment in automobile traffic at a time when we need to explore alternatives. Its construction would also present serious environmental challenges.
  • The grid is the best solution to reconnect parts of the city that were physically disconnected – quite intentionally – with the misguided urban renewal programs of the 1960s.
  • The Community Grid will still allow relatively high-speed access to the city and tie into the existing street grid that once accommodated about 220,000 city residents, as opposed to the current population of some 143,000.
  • To be sustainable, the city must have a population that sees the importance of community, ecology and place. If the city has no population, no amount of clean air or urban forest will matter. As a grid moves through-traffic away from the city core, suburban communities can share the burden of accommodating such traffic and ESF scientists can work with community leaders on exemplary forest and wetland innovations that can mitigate the impacts on the areas around I-481.

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I-81 Resources: 

View the full New York State Department of Transportation DEIS report here. 

Click here for full renderings of the proposed community grid.

If you want to weigh in on the report, you can write comments to:

Mark Frechette, PE, Project Director

New York State Department of Transportation, Region 3

333 East Washington Street

Syracuse, NY 13202

You can email comments to

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