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DOT says hybrid I-81 replacement option being considered

Zack Seward

The possibility of Interstate 81 someday being buried under Syracuse is still alive, but it’s hard to tell just how seriously state transportation planners are considering it. Businesses and suburban-centric officials have been pushing for a so-called hybrid replacement for Interstate 81. 

The idea would be to tunnel a short stretch of I-81 through downtown, and build a boulevard above it. Proponents say it’s the best of both worlds, space for new development without disrupting traffic flow.

But when the New York Department of Transportation last summer released the results of studying various options and proposals for the I-81 viaduct’s replacement, it largely ruled out any tunnels because of cost and construction difficulty.

There has since been a push for this hybrid option to still be included. DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said during a stop in Syracuse the proposal came just in time. "Yes, that was proposed before the end of the scoping period, it was proposed over the summer," she told reporters. "And we are looking at that as a potential candidate for extending into the next phase."

She wouldn’t say just how seriously that plan is being considered, though.

"Right now, I’m not at a point in time to say which ones are in or out.," she said.

The plans DOT officials recommended moving forward with were a rebuilt viaduct or diverting highway traffic to the east of Syracuse and constructing an urban boulevard through downtown. Cost is just one factor, McDonald said, even though a tunnel would be the most expensive option.

A new report from DOT with more detailed analysis is expected at the end of the month.