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Downtown group wants a boulevard, county legislature supports hybrid I-81 replacement

Ryan Delaney
Merika Treier, head of the Downtown Committee, discussing Interstate 81 alternatives

The Onondaga County Legislature has put its support behind a so-called hybrid option to replace Interstate 81 through Syracuse, the same day the Downtown Committee put its weight behind the boulevard plan.

It’s another example of the suburban versus urban divide that has developed over this lengthy debate about the future of Interstate 81.

The Downtown Committee compared the two options the state transportation department is formally studying right now: a rebuilt viaduct, or the highway’s diversion around the city and replacing it with a boulevard.

The committee’s Merika Treier says removing the barrier of the elevated highway would free up seven acres of land for new development.

"We know that there is a lot of development activity that’s spreading between downtown, University Hill, the North Side, all these different neighbors, so the opportunity [is there] to create the framework to start to reconnect these neighborhoods," she said Tuesday morning.

The boulevard would be best for downtown’s vitality and linkage with University Hill, Treier said.

"I think it’s really important that we’re looking ahead at what alternative is going to create the foundation for us to build that future community," she said.

But County Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon said later in the day those two options are old news. "What we need to look at, is taking the best of both plans; studying them," he said.

McMahon is talking about discussion of a tunnel-boulevard combination that would bring down the viaduct and bury the highway, with a new road above it. The legislature, with some opposition, passed a resolution asking the state to put that option in its study.

DOT officials have preliminarily ruled out such an option because of cost and feasibility.

Suburban officials and businesses along Interstate 81 bemoan the possibility of loosing easy access into or through Syracuse. But many city-based officials and developers call the elevated highway a barrier and it removed from downtown.

Some legislators did object to the legislature's resolution. Linda Erving, a Democrat from Syracuse, says the hybrid plan hasn’t been studied enough yet. 

"We need to be able to say in the final analysis that this was the right step to take at this particular time’ I’m not prepared to do that. And I really don’t feel that we should be taking this step today," she said.

Her effort to delay the vote was defeated.

DOT is expected to release more details on the I-81 options this spring.