SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV)– With the public comment period already underway for the proposed I-81 project, community members whose voices are often silenced are now speaking out loud and clear.
The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Urban Jobs Task Force organized an I-81 March for Justice Saturday morning. Participants walked in unison from Dr. King Elementary School to the state office building downtown where a press conference followed.
One of those participants was Ryedell Davis, a Syracuse resident who grew up right next to the 81 viaduct.
“Missing school constantly, in the hospital, I remember multiple times having to go to the nurse’s office just to get on the albuterol machine,” Davis said.
He was recounting memories he had from his childhood when he developed severe asthma.
“So me thinking it was something normal, not realizing that it was something that the highway that was directly behind the apartment my mom was renting from Syracuse Housing was part of the problem why my asthma was so bad,” he said.
Historically speaking, the asthma rate of kids that attend Dr. King School is above average, event organizers stating it’s three times higher than the state average.
Environmental justice was just one component this community felt was ignored in the Department of Transportations Draft Environmental Impact Statement released last month.
But, State Senator Rachel May who was in attendance at the march said she met with the DOT commissioner a few days ago and she was adamant that they’re listening to what the public has to say.
Event organizers, Lanessa Owens-Chaplin and Deka Dancil, said they want to turn that listening into action. They’re demanding the DOT put in writing that the jobs created by this project will stay local and employ people in their community. They also want the proposed roundabout to be moved farther away from Dr. King School and the land that’s freed up to be returned to the people it’s stolen from for decades.
“We want to make it clear that we’re not going to be cut out of those jobs,” Dancil said. “It’s happening in our city, on our streets, in our faces so we deserve a fair share of those jobs.
The first two public hearings will take place on August 17 virtually and the next two public hearings will be held in-person on August 18 at the OnCenter with a public open house running from 3:30 pm-8:30 pm.
The DOT also recently announced a series of eight neighborhood meetings starting August 24. For more information click here.