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What to expect in the new study on Interstate 81 coming soon

Ryan Delaney
WRVO News File Photo
The Interstate 81 viaduct in downtown Syracuse at Exit 18.

More information about Interstate 81’s future in downtown Syracuse should be available in the next few days, as state transportation officials will release a new study on the options for the elevated roadway.

It’s just the latest chapter in the lengthy saga over what do about the old and crumbling elevated stretch of Interstate 81 that carves through downtown Syracuse. That portion of the highway is reaching the end of its useful lifespan, the state says, so the gears are in motion to decide its fate.

State transportation engineers have been studying the two scenarios they’ve deemed most feasible: Either rebuilding the viaduct, but wider and up to code, or diverting the freeway east of Syracuse to make room for downtown redevelopment.

Last May, the DOT came out with 16 variations of those two options, while ruling out others, like a tunnel. For the past year, the transportation department has been conducting more in depth analysis and will likely have the options narrowed down.

Those two broad options alone have created strong opinions among elected officials, business owners and developers, who disagree on which is better for the future of the city and the region. It's largely a city versus suburban divide, with most city residents and elected officials calling for the highway's removal, while suburban interests want to maintain speedy access to downtown and other businesses along I-81.

We’ll also find out just how much the state DOT has bent to public pressure to consider a third option, which has been dubbed a hybrid. The idea is to tunnel part of the highway underground – maintaining the expressway – but also allow development above it. The DOT initially said the tunnel options it studied weren’t practical or affordable. This hybrid option arose shortly after the last round of studies were released.

The upcoming study results won’t be the last step, a final decision on I-81’s future is still long off.

Want to get all caught up on the I-81 project, check out all of WRVO's coverage here.