SUNY ESF, Upstate in favor of ‘Community Grid’ replacement option for I-81

Future of 81

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – SUNY ESF and the Upstate community have endorsed the community grid option for Interstate 81 replacement options.

In a news release, SUNY ESF Interim President David C. Amberg said the “Community Grid” option is the best option for the city and the college.

“The discussion of the future of I-81 viaduct has been of great interest to Upstate. Interstate 81 is our front yard, side yard and back yard. It runs through the middle of our campus. It carries many people to and from our campus, for work, study and care. But the decision has implications beyond our campus as it will impact the city of Syracuse and Central New York for generations to come,”  said Upstate interim President Mantosh Dewan in a statement. 

Upstate sat down with SUNY ESF and the State DOT for a better understanding of the impact of the project. 

President Amberg’s entire statement:

Dear Campus Community,

I am grateful to be part of a campus ecosystem that cares deeply about the community beyond our borders. As such, I and many others at ESF have watched with great interest as the state debated the best way to replace the aging Interstate 81 viaduct that forms part of our campus’ western boundary.

Just this past Friday, COO Joanie Mahoney, VP Maureen Fellows and I had the opportunity to join members of the Upstate Medical University leadership team at a briefing by the New York State Department of Transportation.

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.

In addition to hearing from the state team, I have consulted with many of our faculty from across campus – scientists, designers and engineers who are experts in the array of issues that are part of this complicated question. Their input reveals a clear consensus: The Community Grid is the best choice.

On the community grid, Dewan said: 

The Community Grid provides an opportunity to alleviate traffic congestion that already exists around our campus. We have been assured that new traffic patterns will allow for more options on and off University Hill. Our highest priority is to ensure that our patients and all of us who work and study at Upstate will be able to get here quickly and safely. We are encouraged to learn that commuting time to and from Upstate, including for emergency vehicles, will be the same or a bit shorter.

Project cost estimates and construction timetables also favor the Community Grid. Having the region’s only Level I Trauma Center, not to mention the Upstate Cancer Center, steps away from I-81 makes it imperative that demolition and construction be accomplished as quickly and as safely as possible with as little disruption as possible. I have received assurances that will be the case.

The Community Grid alternative is not just about replacing a deteriorating highway. We are excited to partner with the city to create new opportunities for businesses, employment, neighborhood development and prosperity—all essential components for building healthier communities, which is the mission of our university.

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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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