DOT’s 2021 I-81 design still endorses community grid, but changes have been made since 2019 version

Future of 81

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV)– The New York State Department of Transportation released their Draft Design Report/Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Friday laying out their plans for the extensive I-81 project

The preferred community grid alternative outlines some additional changes to the plan including: 

  • A northbound exit will be added from Business Loop 81 to Colvin Street to service the southside
  • On and off ramps to BL 81 will be moved from Court Street to Bear Street 
  • A new ramp will be built between southbound BL 81 and I-81 
  • A roundabout at the intersection of BL 81 and MLK, Jr. East will lead into the community grid
  • The current 1-481 exit 3 towards DeWitt and Fayetteville will be widened from one lane to two lanes and then two lanes to four lanes closer to routes 5 and 92
  • A land use working group to allow community members and local leaders to participate in the decision-making process for the land that will be freed up once the viaduct is removed
  • Air quality monitoring systems to make sure residents nearest the construction are protected 

The I-81 project director, Mark Frechette, said the roundabout by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School will be a good traffic calming measure to slow down traffic coming off the business loop into the community grid. He also commented that this option will help to protect the school children in that area.

As for the land use working group he said he wants to make sure that everyone’s voices are heard in the planning process.

“We certainly would engage the southside on that, we would engage the school on that, City of Syracuse is a partner to this process,” he said. “I think any businesses that may be adjoining property that gets freed up would want to be part of that stakeholder group. There are others, like Center State, that represent businesses in the area that will have a seat at the table in talking about what is the best use of this property.”

He also added that the travel time concerns suburban residents raised about the project will not be impacted with the community grid option because of the creation of the business loop. 

“What we learned is that we would be allowed to maintain much of the business loop 81 as a freeway, and what that means is it stays the same,” he said. “It’s not considered an interstate, but it’s traveling at 65 mph. We will not have to do work south of the northern interchange at I-81, 481 down to about Hiawatha; all that will stay the same, and people who live in those areas will experience the same travel patterns that we have today.”

A public comment period will run from now until September 14 for community members to voice their opinions and concerns. There will also be two virtual public hearings on August 17 and one in-person public hearing at the On Center on August 18.

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