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D.O.T. delays next step of I-81 challenge

Zack Seward

The next stage of the planning process regarding the future of the elevated portion of Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse has been pushed back a few weeks, as heat grows on state officials over the process.

The state transportation department has been criticized recently for seemingly narrowing the options for the future of the 1.4 mile elevated viaduct from the original five down to two deemed most feasible: either re-route or rebuild.

The Department of Transportation has countered that all options are still on the table.

(You can read more coverage of the I-81 debate here.)

D.O.T. Commissioner Joan McDonald was in Syracuse Tuesday for two meetings: a private one with elected officials and a public meeting with transportation planners.

She decided to delay implementing the $32 million environmental study in order to better inform the public about the process.

The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council has spent the past few years holding public forums and running traffic studies. The D.O.T. is planning on hiring a new firm to conduct a more thorough analysis of the proposed options.

McDonald says the decision to delay beginning the new study was hers alone.

"The federal environmental review process is somewhat cumbersome and it takes some time for people to understand that process," she said in an interview. "And I want to make sure everyone is comfortable with that process before we move forward."

McDonald added that the politicians who have reached out to her recently will have just as much say in the process as everybody else.

She says the plan now is to approve the study in August. It shouldn’t be a major delay in a decision making process that isn’t expected to be completed until 2017 – when the I-81 viaduct is predicted to reach the end of its usable lifespan.

"People do have their favorite alternative, but at D.O.T. we want the facts to speak for themselves," McDonald said. "And we are just starting that factual analysis."