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NY DOT holds open house on community grid, alternatives to replace I-81 in Syracuse

Central New York residents got their first chance to see some of the new designs for the Interstate-81 project through Syracuse.

The New York State Department of Transportation held its first open house since the release of a 15,000 page report that selected a community grid as the preferred alternative to replace a mile of the elevated highway downtown. Under that plan, the current I-81 through Syracuse would be moved over to Interstate 481, east of the city, and replaced with Business Loop 81. DOT Regional Director Dave Smith said Business Loop 81 would preserve high speed access to Syracuse.

“We’ll still have high speed from the north, all the way down to 690, and from the south, all the way up to near the Carrier Dome, Martine Luther King Jr. area," Smith said. "That’s one example of how we need to educate people so that they understand really, what this community grid is about.”

The DOT has dismissed a tunnel alternative as being too expensive and taking too long to build. But Dan Carroll of East Syracuse said it should be brought back.

“I think both the community grid and a tunnel would be the ideal option, if it was possible," Carroll said. "But if they take the tunnel off the table, what are you going to do? You have no other choice than to make the best of what they give you.”

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
The Save 81 Coalition.

The Save 81 coalition, a group of elected officials, business leaders and community members wanting to maintain high-speed access through the city, continue to pressure DOT to not choose a community grid. Holland Gregg of Skaneateles said he worries that truck traffic will not stay on the interstates.

“We just think that this new proposal is going to exacerbate and increase truck traffic through the Finger Lakes, and we think that is going to have a huge detrimental effect on the economy in the Finger Lakes,” Gregg said.

The I-81 project director gave a presentation on the community grid and the other alternatives to a packed house, including Saurnthia Houser, who lives in Pioneer Homes, next to the existing viaduct.

“Seeing it made a difference, then just always hearing stuff," Houser said about the presentation.

Nine other public meetings will be held until the end of July. A final decision won't be made until the end of 2020.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.