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Syracuse lawmakers and citizens take up the I-81 debate

Ryan Delaney

Just a handful of Syracuse residents turned up to the Common Council's first public hearing on the lengthy and divisive debate over the future of Interstate 81 that runs through the city's core.

Previous public forums hosted by transportation planners brought out hundreds of people and generated an equal number of comments and different opinions.

On Monday, just nine people let their opinions known about the mile and a half of elevated roadway through downtown . The hearing lasted 45 minutes.

That stretch of road, known as the viaduct, is reaching the end of its useful lifespan. State transportation officials are engaged in a lengthy process to decided the roadway's future. For the most part, the options have narrowed to either rebuilding the elevated road, or rerouting the highway around the city (to the existing Interstate 481), and putting an urban boulevard in its place.

Some of those who addressed the council called for more options and discussion. Landscape architect Steve Buechner present his vision of a tunneled version of the I-81 with a swath of green space above it.

"We really think that this [is] about revitalizing our city core and we need to have everyone in a discussion about our mutuality of the city and the suburbs is linked together," said Peter Sarver, who represents the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse.

The county versus city issue has recently surfaced, as many suburban residents and businesses expressed concerns about losing easy access to downtown or a diversion of their customers.

"We’re talking about 1.4 miles to be reconstructed and put back up," said resident Arleen Fordock. "In that time period, 481 can be used, that’s a good suggestion, but then flip it back. That’s how we get our tourists, that's how we get our busses, that's how we get our trucks."

The elevated roadway is also seen as a barrier and hindrance to further development of the University Hill sector and downtown sections of the city.

The Onondaga County Legislature has formerly made its position on the debate known, passing a resolution to leave I-81 running through downtown.

The Syracuse Common Council did not take any formal position Monday evening.

"I think we would like to take a little more time with this and be a little more thoughtful," said councilor Bob Dougherty.

WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail
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