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SU: campus will be "dramatically" impacted by I-81 construction

WRVO News File Photo
Interstate 81's on-ramp back onto the highway, heading north, from University Hill.

The Syracuse University campus would be greatly impacted by the reconstruction of Interstate 81 through the city, a university working group has determined.

When visitors to the Syracuse University campus exit the Interstate 81 viaduct, they’re currently faced with an “unattractive city fabric,” the study concludes.

"The experience of the University is not such a good one because it’s not so clear how to get to the university," said dean of architecture Michael Speaks, who led the group, adding drivers must navigate a "cluttered path."

The report says the colleges lacks "a front door" for those using the highway to arrive.

"I think our observation was traffic options could be improved and the experience of Syracuse University, and The Hill in general, could be improved," Speaks said.

Speaks' group prepared a 30-page report on the I-81 project’s impact on the campus at the chancellor’s request.

The interstate’s current pathway runs right along the western edge of campus, an area the school wants to expand.

"Everything will be impacted pretty dramatically," said Speaks.

About 3,600 workers at the school drive to campus every day, though not all use I-81.

The report also suggests better public transportation is needed. It doesn’t go into much detail, but suggests a light rail system, or revival of the On-Track train that was used for about a decade, but stopped running in 2008.

Here are some key findings from the report:

  • The University does not have enough space to accommodate parking demands on the main campus. Parking options should be moved away from the main campus. 
  • Access to the University Hill area from the current configuration of I-81 is extremely limiting and the single access point creates a traffic bottleneck for daily commuters and visitors.
  • The University lacks a signature gateway, or “front door” that aligns well with current traffic flows. 
  • In order to create better access to the campus, multi-modal (rail, bus, bike and automobile) transportation options should be developed or expanded.

The report makes no recommendations for what transportation planners should put in the place of the aging elevated highway through the city. But the university is a powerful voice in the Syracuse community.