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Maffei wants more creative options for I-81's future in Syracuse

Syracuse-area Rep. Dan Maffei has weighed in on the future of Interstate 81 through the city’s downtown. The Democrat, from suburban DeWitt, is calling for more creative options than the ones currently on the table.

Transportation planners last week unveiled the two options (whittled down from five) they’ve deemed most feasible for the aging Interstate 81: rebuilding the elevated highway, or rerouting it and putting an urban boulevard in its place.

State and local transportation officials have been hosting a series of public forums and conducting studies on the roadway's future.

Maffei says he’s worried the two options put forward for the highway’s second life are insufficient. In a letter to State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald, Maffei said the two options "are not feasible at all."

"I fear that these two options, limiting us to those, basically precludes consensus and will lead to a very unfortunate conflict, often between suburbs and city," he said Thursday while standing in a park with the I-81 as a backdrop.

Interstate 81 moves thousands of cars through downtown every day. But many, especially those in the city, see it has an eyesore and a restriction to development of both downtown and nearby University Hill section.

Businesses and residents in the surrounding towns worry about losing customers or their easy access the city's core.

Maffei called I-81’s current footprint a barrier, but doesn’t want the decision on its future to divide the community.

He also raised issue with the fact a rebuilt elevated highway would need to be larger in order to fit modern codes. And he says an urban boulevard may not offer the smooth transportation and accessibility proponents tout.

"Without a consensus, I don’t know if we’ll have the political support to be able to really do anything," he added.

Maffei declined to offer his own exact solution, but said rebuilding it probably would not work. He says the decision should be up to residents, not bureaucrats.

The mile-and-a-half of elevated roadway running through the city - known as the viaduct - is reaching the end of its lifespan. Transportation planners hope to have a decision made on the road’s future by 2017, when the highway turns 50 years old.