Katko concerned about ‘rough shape’ of I-81, says delay could lead to rebuilding it as is

Jan 30, 2020

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) has some concerns about how long it’s taking the state to get through the process of planning for the Interstate 81 project though Syracuse.

The next step in the long regulatory process is the release of the revised version of a draft environmental review document. Katko doesn’t expect to see that anytime soon.

“The draft environmental impact statement isn’t even out until probably this December at the earliest,” Katko said. “In the meantime, the viaduct is in rough shape. If there’s a major structural problem between now and then, that could really impact what they do long term as well.”

Rep. John Katko at Onondaga Community College in January.
Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News

He used, as an example, a project in Queens, NY, that went through something similar.

“Because of delays, they had a major structural issue, they ended up rebuilding what they already had,” Katko said. “That could happen.” 

A crumbing 1.4 mile viaduct still carries traffic through downtown Syracuse. The road built in the 1950s has reached the end of its lifespan. The New York State Department of Transportation is reviewing comments in the wake of a draft environmental statement released last April that concluded that a “community grid” is the preferred choice for reconfiguring the highway. The Federal Highway Administration will fund most of the massive project, and has the final say on the project. 

“They’re going to look at the process in a lot of detail, and they have to give the final thumbs up,” Katko said. “This is a multi-year process going forward, I bet."

Katko said a myriad of state and federal regulations contributes to the lengthy decision process, and he’d like to see them streamlined.

The issue has split the community, with some areas, like the suburbs north of Syracuse, preferring an alternative option to the community grid, which is favored by many in the City of Syracuse.