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Katko encourages comments on I-81 project during telephone town hall meeting

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Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) has a message for central New Yorkers: now is the time to gather your thoughts about the Interstate-81 project.

The public comment period could start in a matter of weeks. During a telephone town hall this week, Katko told constituents it’s important not to miss this chance.

"We need to get re-focused on this issue,” said Katko. “This is the biggest decision that will be made for this area in at least my lifetime so far."

Katko said a draft environmental impact statement could be made public by the end of July. Then, a public comment period would start, including a public hearing with the New York State Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration sometime in August.

The Federal Highway Administration would review that input before issuing a decision.

The plan that’s being considered by the FHA is the community grid option, which includes eliminating about a mile and a half of I-81 and rerouting traffic through the heart of the city.

During the town hall, multiple people expressed concerns about how that would affect traffic and local businesses.

"Folks here are concerned about emergency vehicles, ambulances, being able to get down to the hospital in a short amount of time, or tripling or quadrupling their commute times," said Deb, who lives in the Town of Salina.

Katko encouraged everyone at the town hall to express their concerns during the public comment period.

“This could be a multi-billion dollar investment, and we have to get it right,” said Katko.  “We have to try as best we can, and whatever they ultimately come up with, we’ve got to get behind it once the decision’s made, whether we agree with it or not, we’ve got to get behind it.  But until that time, it’s good to have these discussions.”

The Federal Highway Administration says a final environmental impact statement and decision could be released in early 2022.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.