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Final decision on I-81's future is 18 months away, DOT says

Ryan Delaney
WRVO News File Photo

New York’s transportation commissioner says a final decision about the future of the elevated stretch of Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse will be made in a year and a half.

DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald discussed the future of the aging raised highway at a budget hearing today in Albany. "It's not an easy project," she said.

McDonald says her department will be out in March with more information on what impact to other roadways changes to I-81 could create, then it's on to the next step.

"It’s about an 18-month process," she said. "We try to compress it and we’re doing everything that we can to compress it. But a lot of it will depend on, is there consensus around one of the alternatives."

State Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) and other area lawmakers recently sent a letter to McDonald saying the current path of I-81 should remain essentially where it is. Some community members have argued the aging highway should be torn down and re-routed around the city.

The 1.4 mile elevated stretch of roadway is nearing the end of its lifespan and transportation officials and community leaders are locked in a debate about the road's future. Some want it simply rebuilt, others say its current footprint is a barrier to the city.

DeFrancisco brought up the idea of a combination of a depressed and elevated replacement, like how I-81 is on the city's north side.

"And the world has not come to an end and the neighborhoods have not crumbled," he said.

McDonald told lawmakers the state is working in partnership with federal authorities, but the Federal Highway Administration will make the ultimate decision.