SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state budget allocation of $800 million for the I-81 renovation to begin in 2022 came with his most decisive language yet that the state’s preferred option to replace the viaduct with a community grid is what will ultimately be the final option.
The Governor’s Office writes, “The project will remove the existing elevated structure separating the City of Syracuse by constructing an integrated Community Grid that will disburse traffic along local north-south streets, create a new business loop and reconnect the neighborhoods severed by construction of the interstate.”
The announcement all but totally eliminates any flexibility for the other studied replacement option, updated the elevated highway in a similar format, to be chosen.
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh agrees.
In an interview with NewsChannel 9, Mayor Walsh said, “Yes. The community grid is going to happen.”
“It’s critically important that, right now, those that haven’t been willing to accept that the community grid is going to happen need to come to that conclusion,” Mayor Walsh said. “Because the sooner they do, the sooner that I and other representatives can work with them to address any outstanding concerns.”
Those against the community grid support an option that keeps I-81 routed through Downtown Syracuse using a similarly raised highway.
A previously-considered tunnel was deemed to expensive and logistically unlikely.
People who live in the suburbs surrounding Syracuse have a variety of concerns about removing the highway, including more truck traffic through southern towns like Skaneateles, a lack of traffic to the northern businesses in Salina and at Destiny USA, and too much traffic exiting into eastern suburbs from I-481, which will be predesignated the thru-traffic interstate
Two years ago, the State Department of Transportation released a draft Environmental Impact Statement that endorsed the community grid, but promised to work with different groups to add features that will lessen negative impacts.
That plan is being reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration, which has to sign off on the final version.
Walsh said, “We haven’t seen any specific updates to the plans from DOT, but we’ve been talking to them regularly and they’ve assured us that they have been addressing outstanding issues, that they have been evolving the plans.”
Governor Cuomo promises an updated plan to be released this summer, along with a formal public hearing which is required by the federal approval process.
The state budget money will be used for the first phase of construction, which the Governor has set to begin in 2022.