Business owners and representatives from the trucking industry spoke out in Auburn Monday at Rep. John Katko’s (R-Camillus) first of four town halls regarding the future of the Interstate 81 viaduct in Syracuse. They say they want the viaduct to remain where it is today, rather than replace it with a street-level community grid.
Brian Brundige of Terpening Trucking in Syracuse said the extra miles it would take to go around the city, if I-81 is redirected to I-481 in DeWitt, means additional operating costs for the company.
"They can't deny there is a business impact we would have to absorb," Brundige said. "Eventually, it gets passed on to the consumer."
The other option is a tunnel, which Colleen Rejman, the owner of the Venice Enterprise trucking company south of Auburn, said could work for her company. But Rejman echoed Brundige's concerns, saying eliminating the viaduct would create a huge financial burden for trucking companies because of the extra time. Given the choice, she said trucks wouldn’t use I-481.
“The towns around here, they are most definitely going to feel an impact," Rejman said. "From Aurora, Auburn, Skaneateles, Owasco, the trucks that don’t have to unload in Syracuse are going to come straight through these other towns.”
That worried some Cayuga County residents about how truck pollution or an accident could affect the water and lakes in the region.
Advocates for the community grid acknowledged the grid could impact trucking businesses, but they say it’s a smaller impact than how the Syracuse area around the viaduct would be affected by a taller, wider elevated highway.
City and suburban residents have been divided on how to replace I-81. Katko has not publicly announced a preferred option. He said it is his job to secure funding for the project from the federal government. But after ten years of the state studying I-81, he said his biggest concern is nothing happens.
“The governor could sit there and say, you guys can’t decide on anything, I give up, and just keep patching that bridge, which would be a disaster," Katko said. "So, all sides are going to have to bend if we’re going to get this done. That’s part of what my job is going to try to do, is build consensus for everybody.”
Everyone is still waiting on New York State to release the results of a draft environmental impact statement on the I-81 options. Katko's next town hall will be held in the town of DeWitt on Saturday.