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Officials inch closer to decision day with I-81 public meeting

Zack Seward

The magic number for the future of Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse is five:

Five different options, with a final decision five years away.

Tomorrow afternoon transportation planners from the I-81 Challenge will present a broad set of options for what to do about the aging, elevated portion of I-81 known locally as "the viaduct."

After that, planning officials begin the process of collecting the public's opinion.

Based on suggestions collected during a series of hearings last spring [PDF], planners settled on the following options for the viaduct's fate:

  1. Maintain the existing structure
  2. Rehabilitate the roadbed and the bridges
  3. Reconstruct the roadbed and replace the bridges
  4. Replace the existing structure with a depressed highway or tunnel
  5. Replace the existing structure with an urban boulevard

But a final decision is still a long ways off.
"It's very public intensive, it's very study intensive. And it should be," says Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC) Director James D'Agostino.

SMTC officials are working with the state's Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) on the decision making process.

The highway was constructed in the 1960s and engineers say the elevated portion through the heart of the city is nearing the end of its lifespan.


Once the second round of community input is collected, D'Agostino says he and his team will begin creating computer models.

"After that we're going to come back to the public with the modeling results so they can compare apples-to-apples," D'Agostino says.

The report from SMTC is expected to be done in about 18 months. At that point, things will be handed over to NYSDOT.

Officials hope to have a final decision on the future of I-81 ready by 2017.

There are still hard feelings among some parts of the community about the way I-81 was built nearly 50 years ago. D'Agostino says it's important to not repeat past mistakes.

"We don't want to do something that flies in the face of community will," he warns. "Because it will never work if we try and do that."

WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail
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