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Supporters of proposed bridge to replace I-81 in Syracuse want to name it after Harriet Tubman

I-81 Bridge.jpg
Tom Magnarelli
A rendering of the proposed bridge to replace I-81.

Supporters of having a bridge replace the Interstate 81 viaduct in Syracuse, now want to name it after the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who lived in Auburn.

Charles Garland, a Syracuse resident and a Democratic candidate for Onondaga County Legislature, is in in favor of a proposed bridge that would keep high-speed access through the city of Syracuse. He was having a conversation about it with Pauline Copes Johnson, the great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman and matriarch of the family, who lives in Auburn and just turned 94.

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Charles Garland with Pauline Copes Johnson.

“We were sitting in the living room, she was looking at it, looking at the picture, rubbing it like older people do, ruminating, and then she said, ‘Why don’t you call it the Harriet Tubman Memorial Freedom Bridge?” Garland said. “And it was like a lightning bolt. Some of us actually started crying.”

Relatives of the Tubman family gathered with Garland at Wilson Park next to I-81 in Syracuse to make the announcement.

The state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration say the community grid is its preferred option to replace the I-81 viaduct. A larger, elevated highway is possible, but the DOT said it would cost more, take longer to build and destroy more buildings. Neighborhood meetings and a public comment period continues until mid-September. Garland and other supporters of the bridge say they're not giving up.

“We’re not saying that we don’t want the grid, we’re saying that it can and should be supplemented,” Garland said.

He added businesses built around I-81 will fail if high speed access is eliminated through the city. Garland is running against incumbent Onondaga County Legislator Vernon Williams. Williams, who wants the viaduct removed, said the bridge will continue to pollute the Black community and divide neighborhoods. He called naming the bridge after Tubman a slap in the face to the Black community.

Read Williams’ full statement below.

Vernon Williams.jpeg