Some local town leaders have been vocal about I-81 grid replacement for years, but still don’t feel heard

Local News

TOWN OF CLAY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Town supervisors from around Onondaga County stood together to announce their continued opposition to the State DOT plan to take down a portion of I-81 through Downtown Syracuse and put through-traffic onto a grid of city streets.

The leaders, representing Clay, DeWitt, Camillus, Salina, Onondaga, Lysander, Van Buren and Elbridge, are fighting a surge of recent momentum towards the community grid concept.

In recent weeks, President Joe Biden specifically named the I-81 project in his pending Jobs and Infrastructure plan, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg committed to looking into the project’s status at the request of Congressman John Katko and Governor Andrew Cuomo set aside $800 million in the state budget for the project.

In his budget allocation announcement, Governor Cuomo seemed to indicate that the grid was a done deal.

At the time, Mayor Walsh told NewsChannel 9, “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.”

Specifically asked about Walsh’s comments, Clay Town Supervisor Damian Ulatowski said, “None of us are against a community grid but it needs to be in conjunction with another alternative. Either a new elevated highway, a sky bridge, a depressed highway.”

The town supervisors want high-speed traffic to remain running through Syracuse.

In its endorsement of the community grid in a 2019 draft, the State DOT also all but ruled out the last remaining contending option: a replacement raised highway in a similar format to the current I-81.

“We’ve written to the Secretary of Transportation. We’ve written to the governor. We’ve written to  Gillibrand. We’ve written to Schumer. Just about any other leader of the community and not once have we been recognized for our position or been invited to the table to have a dialogue,” said Ulatowski.

The town supervisors’ concerns have been consistent over the years: businesses dying along I-81 exits in the Town of Salina, too much traffic on I-481 when it’s re-designated I-81, including increased traffic off its exits like near Wegmans in DeWitt, and truck traffic skipping the I-481 detour by cutting through Skaneateles.

DOT engineers had expressed openness to improving their plan to reduce the negative impacts, but the State DOT has not shared its evolved design.

DeWitt Deputy Town Supervisor, Kerry Mannion, said, “I’d like to see what the DOT’s latest proposal is. They’ve had two more years to look at it without a lot of dialogue with us. How’s it look? How’d you solve the problems we’ve been talking about the last couple of years?”

The State DOT was not available for comment when Governor Cuomo announced his budget allocation.

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