The week that was for the Future of 81: NewsChannel 9’s day-by-day coverage

Future of 81

Friday, April 19

12:55 p.m.: Without any indication to the public that the New York State Department of Transportation would reveal its long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Monday, Syracuse University’s Chancellor comes out endorsing the community grid in an email to the campus community.

Syracuse University rejected all interview requests on the topic.

NewsChannel 9 later learns Syracuse University leaders had the benefit of an advance briefing by the NYSDOT.


Monday, April 22

10:45 a.m.: Early in the day, similar to Syracuse University, SUNY ESF and SUNY Upstate Medical University come out with their endorsements of the community grid. 

1:30 p.m.: In an exclusive interview, SUNY ESF Interim President David Amberg tells NewsChannel 9’s Andrew Donovan he was briefed by the New York State Department of Transportation and was among the first to see the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and its benefits.

2:30 p.m.: Not long after, sources confirm first to NewsChannel 9 that the NYSDOT plans to release its long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement sometime Monday, along with an endorsement of the community grid.

3:30 p.m.: NewsChannel 9 confirms the state delegation from Central New York sat down with DOT engineers and the report’s release is imminent.

5:00 p.m.: The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is released by the NYSDOT on its website.

In the document, the DOT overwhelmingly endorses bringing down the I-81 viaduct in favor of a community grid, an already-existing network of streets that will be rebuilt. The plan rules out the other options: a tunnel and rebuilding the viaduct.

The plan calls for interstate traffic to be rerouted to I-481 (which would eventually be renamed I-81), creates Business Loop 81 for local traffic, and attempts to mitigate problems the changes mean for suburban traffic and businesses.

Senior Reporter Jeff Kulikowsky immediately dives into the document live on NewsChannel 9.

Andrew Donovan tracks down the state leaders, on both sides of the debate, who sat down with the DOT on the plan. He learns new information including the improvements to I-481, like expanding it to three lanes in some spots, and how the plan evolved from the community grid idea many opposed years ago.

Josh Martin travels to Cicero, where the town supervisor calls the DEIS “misguided” and the process “a dog and pony show.”


Tuesday, April 23

Early in the day, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon have separate briefings with the NYSDOT about the DEIS and community grid endorsement.

1:00 p.m.: Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon stand side-by-side for a joint news conference, broadcast live on NewsChannel 9.

NewsChannel 9’s Jeff Kulikowsky spends the day digging into the report and shows before and after images of Downtown Syracuse

5:30 p.m.: Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh sits down with Dan Cummings live on NewsChannel 9 to discuss the selection of his preference, the community grid, what it means for his city, and how some of the suburban traffic concerns are current problems not caused by the community grid.

5:40 p.m.: The Chair of the Onondaga County Legislature, Dave Knapp of LaFayette, appears live with NewsChannel 9’s Jeff Kulikowsky to discuss the next steps tunnel proponents should take now that their preference has been ruled out.

Rob Hackford spent the day talking to people affected by the community grid, including ambulance services who are preparing for the change and hotels in Salina who worry about a loss of business.


Wednesday, April 24

Noon: NewsChannel 9’s Jeff Kulikowsky attends CenterState CEO’s annual luncheon, and talks with executive director Rob Simpson who helped developed the “Community Grid Plus” plan, which was very similar to the final design.

1:00 p.m.: For the first time in years, the people leading the I-81 replacement project speak with reporters about the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and their overwhelming endorsement of the community grid. NewsChannel 9 broadcasts their remarks live.

Following the engineer’s remarks, NewsChannel 9’s Andrew Donovan explains why “Business Loop 81” is a major upgrade from early designs of the community grid, a mitigation technique included by DOT planners.

With a final decision and construction still years away, Julia LeBlanc reports about what drivers need to know about the condition of the I-81 viaduct today and what phases the project will take.

Further digging into the report, NewsChannel 9’s Rob Hackford compares before and after commute times for drivers from different areas.

NewsChannel 9’s Jennifer Sanders, who’s reported extensively on the downfall of the city’s 15th ward, explores how the massive construction project might displace vulnerbale communities.

5:30 p.m.: Assemblyman Al Stirpe appears live on NewsChannel 9 with Andrew Donovan to explain what it’s like to be elected by suburban voters, but endorse the community grid, and says people should be satisfied by the study.

6:00 p.m.: NewsChannel 9’s Josh Martin introduces us to the owners of Tobin’s Furniture, whose building is one of the casualties of the community grid project. The viaduct and tunnel options would have taken many more structures. 


Thursday, April 25

5:00 p.m.: Only two of the 15,000 pages of the DEIS outline the funding for the project. NewsChannel 9’s Andrew Donovan explores where the money will come from.

5:30 p.m.: Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon appears live on NewsChannel 9 with Andrew Donovan to share his wish list for further mitigation, his message for those opposition groups considering litigation and how the project will help the struggling infrastructure of Syracuse.

6:00 p.m.: NewsChannel 9’s Andrew Donovan reports on how the struggling infrastructure of the City of Syracuse will be bolstered by the funding from the community grid project.


Friday, April 26

Revealing more of what NYSDOT engineers said Wednesday, Andrew Donovan explores how bringing down the I-81 viaduct for a community grid will affect traffic flow to the Carrier Dome, Syracuse University, Upstate Medical University, Crouse Hospital and SUNY ESF.

The plan calls for more options for drivers to get to the Hill, but isn’t designed for peak attendance occasions like an SU-Duke basketball game.


Saturday, April 27

NewsChannel 9’s Jeff Kulikowsky and Andrew Donovan, the lead reporters on the “Future of 81” coverage, appear on Newsmakers with Dan Cummings. The three discuss the 15,000 page DEIS, what the next steps look like and what future stories that reporters are working on. 

Newsmakers with Dan Cummings airs on Saturday, April 27 at 6:30am and Sunday, April 28 at 12:00 noon.   

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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 I81Opportunities@dot.ny.gov.

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