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CNY business group proposes alternative I-81 replacement plan

Ellen Abbott
CenterState CEO Executive Director Rob Simpson, left, discusses 'Community Grid Plus,' an alternative option to replace the elevated portion of I-81 in downtown Syracuse

A central New York business group is bringing some new compromises to the table as the region waits for a state report that could determine the future of Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse.

CenterState CEO has come down on the side of the community grid option to replace the I-81 viaduct through downtown Syracuse that needs to be replaced. It would route through traffic around the city via Interstate 481, and create a boulevard style road for traffic coming into the city. 

But CenterState CEO Executive Director Rob Simpson said that they understand the regional impacts of that plan on businesses and communities that are dependent on the highway.

"A lot of the issues are legitimate concerns. And frankly, there are solutions for them," said Simpson. "But those solutions don’t involve the roadway. They involve economic development, community development, transit in some cases, and we are encouraging everyone to think about different ways that we can solve these problems beyond the highway.”

Which is why the organization has come up with what is called the 'Community Grid Plus' plan. 

"I’m not going to suggest this is a compromise that is acceptable to everybody," said Simpson. "But it is, I hope, a new contribution to the discussion.”

The ten-point plan offers promises to mitigate trucking impacts on towns and villages, and redesign interchanges and add lanes to areas that would be affected by extra traffic. It also suggests creation of a revitalization commission that would oversee development of the land around the grid. 

Community Grid Plus : 10 En... by on Scribd

CenterState CEO planner David Mankiewicz said this approach makes sense when considering the way transportation has changed in central New York since I-81 was built in the 1960s. He said through traffic has shifted to the eastern suburbs from the center of the city, with most traffic on 81 used as a way to get in and out of the city of Syracuse.

"When we are doing this plan we have to adjust to the present realities, not the realities of the 1950s, and we have to think about the future of how transportation is going to be handled," Mankiewicz said.

The state Department of Transportation's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), that could reveal how the state wants to replace the aging viaduct, is expected to become public soon.

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.