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Syracuse city council calls for I-81 to be torn down

Zack Seward

The Syracuse Common Council is taking a formal stand on what should be done with the aging infrastructure of Interstate 81. The lawmakers will tell the state they want the viaduct gone.

The future of the mile and a half of elevated highway cutting through downtown has become a urban versus suburban divide. Man city residents and elected leaders say the highway is just that: a divide through the middle of the city, which blocks economic growth and isolates communities.

Councilor Khalid Bey says a half century of the current road is long enough to know what a viaduct does for Syracuse.

"It’s just not a project you do over in the same. You have to be a little more innovative. It has its equity in terms of transportation and convenience, but the expense is just insurmountable," he said.

The Common Council will approve a resolution Monday saying they support one of the state’s proposed futures for highway: re-route the thru traffic to I-481, which goes around the city to the east, and replace 81 with a street-level boulevard.

The county legislature and some suburban lawmakers argue the opposite. They say removing the highway would deprive businesses along its path of customers, and clog cities streets with more traffic. At the least, the highway would have to be rebuilt to be up to code.

A tunnel under the city has also been proposed and discussed. But it’s by the far the most expensive option and has been all but ruled out. 

"The project with the least amount of disruption many not be the best project, we understand that. The cheapest project or the most expensive may not be the best project, so we will certainly be somewhere toward the middle," Bey added.

State and federal transportation officials are expected to release more detailed plans on possible options for a new I-81 in the coming months.