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Syracuse common councilors want a street-level boulevard to replace I-81

Ellen Abbott
Syracuse City Councilors, with Van Robinson at the microphone, on Monday.

Syracuse lawmakers have gone on record calling on the New York State Department of Transportation to replace the Interstate-81 viaduct that runs through the city with a street-level boulevard. The move further defines the debate over what to do with the aging highway, which is reaching the end of its lifespan.

Common councilors have voted unanimously to support the option that would tear down I-81 and force traffic around the city, using Interstate-481.

Credit will.bristol / Flickr

Council President Van Robinson says the decision came after meetings with residents, who told lawmakers they’d prefer a boulevard to a raised highway.

"I don’t think there’s any choice,” Robinson said. “We know 81 is coming down. It’s not a question of when or where. We know it’s going to happen."

Councilors say a boulevard is best for the city because it preserves neighborhoods, enhances walkability and minimizes the widening of the highway.

"The people that we have talked to in the neighborhoods have agreed that the best thing to do is remove 81 and replace it with something that is more amenable to the city and enhancing the city," said Van Robinson, president of the Syracuse common council.

Suburbs to the north of the city though say the I-481 detour will hurt them. That’s one reason Mark Nicotra of Save81.org, who watched the unanimous vote, is disappointed. He says the future of I-81 is a regional decision, and believes a tunnel and boulevard plan is the best compromise.

“A tunnel for through traffic, and a boulevard on top,” Nicotra said. “We’re pushing the DOT to explore that option, because we think it’s the best of both worlds for everybody.”

At this point, state and federal officials are still finalizing options for how to deal with the crumbling mile and a half viaduct.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.