WASHINGTON, D.C. (WSYR-TV) — President Joe Biden’s U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, asks that Central New York “bear with me” as he looks into the status of the I-81 redesign project.
As head of the federal Department of Transportation, which oversees the Federal Highway Administration, Buttigieg’s agency will pay for most of whatever is chosen to replace the aging highway through the City of Syracuse.
Because of its financial interests, the FHA also has to approve the state’s process by which a final plan is decided.
Katko said, “The 81 rebuild in my district is truly a monumental project, which will impact the City of Syracuse and the surrounding areas for generations to come. It’s literally a multibillion dollar project.
“It’s not just a city project, its a regional project,” Katko said.
Before answering, Buttigieg said, “I’ve got a stack of letters on this and I’ve heard from you and others about how important the project is… It’s a community that reminds me a lot of home and I recognize the issues that have led to the urgency of having infrastructure improvements there.”
Before getting to the approval process in the federal government, the final decision on the future of I-81 has to be made by the State Department of Transportation.
Previous studies by the DOT have favored a “community grid” option, which is a robust network of local streets to replace the highway viaduct. The other option would be to rebuild the highway in its current format.
Some labeled I-81’s current design as racist because its construction decades ago divided the historic 15th Ward of Syracuse, a predominantly Black community, and led to the development of poor-quality public housing in its shadow.
Before becoming Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg ran against Biden for the Democratic nomination for president. He is best know by the name “Mayor Pete,” for leading South Bend, Indiana.
Katko ended the I-81 portion of the conversation with an invitation to Syracuse.
“I’ll reiterate our request to have you come up and see it for yourself,” Katko told the secretary. “I think it’s going to be a good test project for you to see how to be innovative and use American ingenuity to fix a long-standing problem in Central New York.”
“I’ll sweeten the pot by saying my sister and brother-in-law have the best Irish pub in Syracuse so I’ll buy you a beer if you come up. How’s that?,” Katko asks referring to Kitty Hoynes in Armory Square.
“Sounds good,” Mayor Pete replied.