Walsh talks I-81, city finances during first State of the City address

Feb 1, 2018

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh placed the future of the Interstate 81 viaduct at the center of his first State of the City speech Wednesday night.

Chances are, whether Walsh is mayor for four or eight years, his administration will be marked by massive road work, as New York State moves towards removing the crumbling Interstate 81 viaduct that splits the city in half. So it’s no surprise, talk of I-81 took up a good portion of Walsh’s message to lawmakers and the community.

“We will also make 2018 a year for progress on the I-81 viaduct project,” Walsh said as the crowd applauded.

Walsh said he’ll make a strong push for what he thinks is the best way to replace the aging viaduct; the community grid option, a grade level road with highway traffic diverted around the city. To do that, he admits he’ll need to bring varied interests together, from Syracuse suburbs worried about the impact of diverted traffic, to concerns about what he called “carmageddon,” thousands of cars dumped onto city streets.

“I think if I can bring leaders together to generate consensus around the solution, then I’m going to certainly use my position as mayor to try to drive towards a decision I think is in the best interest of the city of Syracuse and the region,” Walsh said.

The decision about 81 is in the hands of the state, which is also considering two other options; enlarging the viaduct and a more expensive and lengthy tunnel option. The future of 81 was also the impetus for one of several initiatives Walsh introduced, something called Syracuse Build, which would create a qualified workforce that could work on the 81 job. 

During the address, Walsh also talked about the city’s precarious fiscal future. He noted that revenue is stagnant, and many costs are beyond the city’s control. But Walsh is optimistic that there is a way out of this fiscal hole.

“The purpose of highlighting our fiscal challenges wasn’t to be defeatist, or to suggest it was any one person or projects fault, it was simply to make sure we all knew the challenges ahead of us,” he said. “But I also wanted to make the point that they weren’t going to define us.”

He said a Fiscal Summit Advisory committee with faculty at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University already has some ideas about dealing with the city budget. He said recommendations from the group will be out by fall, so they can be implemented early next year.