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Sticky notes and surveys pave the way for I-81's future in Syracuse

Ryan Delaney
The I-81 Challenge held its second public meeting Wednesday. Planning officials want the public to help determine the future of Interstate 81 in Syracuse.

The dozens of sticky notes mean the jury is still out.

The tabs of paper were posted next to five options Wednesday afternoon. Each represents a different future for the stretch of Interstate 81 that runs through downtown Syracuse.

Transportation planners from the I-81 Challenge began a second round of community meetings Wednesday. The public input they gather will help decide the aging highway's fate.

State engineers say the section of elevated highway running through Syracuse, which is known locally as "the viaduct," is nearing the end of its 50-year lifespan.

But there are lots of different ideas about what to do next.

"There are 20 different 'no-brainers,' " says James D'Agostino, director of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC).

Officials with the I-81 Challenge held a similar round of public forums last year. The comments gathered then helped determine the five choices presented Wednesday:

  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, basically, the future of the viaduct boils down to three options: rebuild it as a raised highway, rebuild it as a depressed highway or tunnel, or get rid of it altogether.
"A headache"

Turnout at Wednesday's forum was off to a better-than-expected start, D'Agostino said.

One of the early attendees was Danielle Masursky, who commutes to Upstate Hospital from the northern suburb of Clay, N.Y.

Masurksy isn't totally sure, but she says she'd like to see I-81 gone.

"It's really a headache," she says of her twice-daily drive.

Masursky says she's alright with any short-term delays from construction. She says she's also OK if I-81's removal creates a longer commute.

"It may shift my use of it, but it can't be worse. I don't feel like it could be worse than it is now," says Masursky, adding she'd like to see a downtown Syracuse more friendly to people than cars.

Christina Robinson agrees: the highway should go, but she's not sure what should go in its place.

"No more patching. It's time for something different," says Robinson, who lives in Syracuse.

Up next

SMTC will take comments from Wednesday's meeting and integrate them into computer models for each potential plan. A report will be released in about 18 months, according to D'Agostino. After that, planning officials will collect more public input.

A final decision from state transportation officials isn't expected until 2017, the viaduct's 50th birthday.

WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail
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