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First detour of I-81 project goes into effect Monday


The first major traffic change as part of the $2.25 billion Interstate 81 project goes into effect Monday. The state Department of Transportation is closing the 81 southbound ramp at Exit 16A, which sends drivers on to 481 North.

The state estimates about 4,500 people use this ramp each day, most heading from Syracuse to the eastern suburbs. That traffic will be rerouted through city streets over the course of the work, which is expected to take more than a year.

DOT Region Director David Smith said it’s all part of the plan to tear down the elevated viaduct in downtown Syracuse and create a Business Loop 81 southbound, with I-81 continuing around the city.

"It's to carry the new 81 to the east, right over the existing 481. So we have to improve the interchange to facilitate high-speed movements in the north-south direction,” Smith said.

While drivers who use Exit 16A will be detoured, the work won’t affect those who are staying on I-81 South.

“What we intend to do is keep two lanes open through the course of the project for the most part,” said Smith. “There will be some short-term closures, some interim closures when we have to set steel for a bridge or whatnot. So there will be some of those short-term, but for the most part, we expect to keep two lanes open.”

This is part of the second contract of the massive project. Work has been going on for months at the northern 81-481 Interchange. The biggest part of the project, tearing down the elevated viaduct, is in the midst of a court battle between those who prefer the community grid option, and those who want a highway to continue to take high-speed traffic through the city.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.