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Legal battle brews ahead of I-81 construction

Ellen Abbott

The city of Syracuse is the latest entity asking to join the defense of a lawsuit that has put the brakes on the long debated Interstate 81 project. Mayor Ben Walsh is speaking out, saying he wants to ensure the court is aware of the extensive support in Syracuse for the removal of the I-81 viaduct.

Walsh is not alone. A group of concerned neighbors and public officials gathered in the shadow of I-81 to speak out against the lawsuit.

Tara Harris has lived in Syracuse her whole life. She said she’s in favor of the community grid plan and wants to see the project move forward as soon as possible.

"The bridge is not safe. We all know that,” said Harris. “I walk under it every day. It's falling apart, literally."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joins neighbors and elected officials to advocate for the I-81 project to begin
Jessica Cain
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joins neighbors and elected officials to advocate for the I-81 project to begin

On Nov. 10, a New York State Supreme Court judge issued a preliminary injunction halting work on the multi-billion dollar project. Advocates for the project said the decision will get in the way of progress and delay jobs created by design and construction opportunities.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand criticized the ruling and said, in her opinion, there is no legal basis for the delay.

“There was plenty of time for a hearing,” Gillibrand said. “We've been talking about this for ten years, and so the normal basis for this kind of delay is that all options haven't been heard. That's just not true in this case. All options have been considered and heard and debated at length."

But Onondaga County Legislator Charles Garland said he’d like to meet with the senator to present his side of the story. He’s part of the group called “Renew 81 For All” that’s behind the lawsuit. He said many of his constituents have environmental concerns about the project, and he feels they haven’t been fully addressed.

"They say that they want to save us from all this elevated traffic, the carcinogens and everything,” Garland said. “It's a known fact. They're going to redirect the same traffic overhead, toxins, pollutants, carcinogens, they say that are killing us, right back into the African American or South Side community."

Former Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler and officials from the towns of Salina, DeWitt, and Tully have also voiced opposition to the project, citing environmental and economic concerns.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.