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What could it look like without Interstate 81 cutting through Syracuse?

A group of architects and urban developers favoring the removal of the interstate through downtown Syracuse are out with a drawing of what the city could look like if the roadway was gone.

The group, ReThink 81, is making the argument that tearing down the elevated highway would make room for economic growth, where currently the roadway creates a gap in economic vitality between downtown and University Hill. The highway bisects those two neighborhoods.

Opposing viewpoints, mostly from suburban businesses and elected officials, say the interstate provides needed access to existing businesses and employers, and should be rebuilt.

ReThink 81 has countered by coming out with concept drawing for what a street-level boulevard could look like. Bob Doucette, a developer involved with ReThink 81, says with a boulevard, dead space and parking lots currently lining the highway could be replaced with buildings.

"This is urban land," he said. "It should be as dense as it can be."

The drawingsshow newly constructed buildings along a tree-lined road with bike lanes and pedestrians. Doucette says those buildings will create property taxes and economic growth for the city. "And that’s the point," he said. "We’re going to return this to productive land."

Credit Rethink81
A rendering of the current status of Washington Street, looking south, with the I81 viaduct.
Credit Rethink81
An artist rendering of how Washington Street could be redeveloped if Interstate 81 is removed.

"We can return about 7 and a half acres of extremely valuable land to the tax rolls and create a new source of tax revenue for this city, and this county, which desperately needs it," Doucette said.

Interstate 81’s elevated viaduct has reached the end of its lifespan. Replacing it with a boulevard would mean rerouting interstate traffic to the east of the city.  Transportation officials and the community are locked in a lengthy debate about the best way to replace the current structure.