Hundreds of public comments in I-81 design document helped DOT evolve plan

Future of 81

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — After 10 years studying and debating how to replace the I-81 viaduct through Downtown Syracuse, the State Department of Transportation credits hundreds of comments submitted by the public for evolving the plan into the latest design.

Last week, the State DOT released its latest version of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Like the 2019 version, the 2021 edition endorses the community grid, but contains enhancements made based on feedback.

The 2021 DEIS, tens of thousands of pages long, includes nearly 3,000 pages of public comments.

The comments vary in format and source, ranging from letters from elected leaders to comment sheets filled out over the years at DOT open houses to emails, voicemail records and amateur drawings that citizens helped best depict their ideas.

Alice, from Syracuse, wrote: “Please do the community grid. it would be so beneficial for Syracuse.”

In his comment, Jeremy listed reasons the viaduct should come down, calling the grid “the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

Like the community at large, not everyone agrees.

Peter, from Camillus, wrote: that the “viaduct alternative addresses the needs of the western suburbs best.”

Many of the comments, especially the critical ones, are printed alongside formal responses to each from the State DOT’s planners and engineers.

In their document, state engineers directly responded to some concerns from people living in the suburbs.

To people in northern Onondaga County, who prefer a replacement viaduct to save businesses, the DOT responded: “Both the Viaduct and Community Grid Alternatives would provide acceptable travel times for motorists and emergency service providers and would preserve businesses such as those in the Town of Salina and Destiny USA.”

The difference, engineers added, was cost. The community grid is less expensive.

To people in southern Onondaga County and Cayuga County, worried about truck traffic, the engineers responded: “Local routes through the Finger Lakes region have requirements for overweight or oversized permitting for truck traffic overseen by the local roadway jurisdictions, and those restrictions would not be altered as part of the Project.”

The DOT said comments helped evolve the community grid plan between 2019 and 2021, including more attention paid to improving I-481 near DeWitt when it gets re-designated I-81, along with Lyndon Corners near the Wegmans on East Genesee Street.

Friday’s release of the 2021 DEIS triggers a formal 60-day public comment period, which closes on Tuesday, September 14 at 5pm. Comments submitted between now and then go on the record as part of the final decision document.

Comments can be submitted via the electronic comment form or by emailing i81opportunities@dot.ny.gov.

Voicemails can be called into the project hotline: 1-855-I81-TALK (1-855-481-8255).

Comments sent via U.S. Mail should be directed to either: 

Mark Frechette, P.E.
Project Director
NYS Department of Transportation, Region 3
333 East Washington Street
Syracuse, NY 13202      

Rick Marquis
Division Administrator
Federal Highway Administration
Leo W. O’Brien Federal Building
11A Clinton Avenue, Suite 719
Albany, NY 12207

Two types of public hearings will be held as part of the public comment period.

On Tuesday, August 17 at 11am and then at 5pm, the DOT will host two virtual public hearings. People can register with the DOT to make verbal comments via Zoom.

A live video stream of the hearing will be available for those who do not wish to make an oral comment. 

On Wednesday, August 18, the DOT will be host two in-person public hearings at the Oncenter in Downtown Syracuse. Doors open at 3:30pm.

A pre-recorded presentation will be shown at 4pm and 6pm, which will be followed by comments.

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