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What will Syracuse's transportation needs be in 2050? Good question

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The future of Interstate 81 and what plan state transportation officials go with is the biggest question mark in Syracuse's transportation future.

Will the Syracuse region’s infrastructure include more bike lanes or bridges in thirty years? The city’s transportation planning agency is trying to map out some of those questions in a new vision document.

America’s recent shift toward urban living would lend itself to a desire for more bike lanes and public transportation, but that won’t eliminate the need for interstates and quality roadways.

The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council is trying to strike that balance and look all the way to 2050 for the region’s transportation needs. Director James D’Agostino says that all has to stay within the auspices of the reality of today’s funding for infrastructure projects.

"So now if we have more infrastructure, but we don’t have more maintenance money, that means we’re spreading it thinner and thinner and thinner," he said. "There’s only so thin you can spread that butter over the bread before it doesn’t go across it anymore."

That could mean tough decisions like closing bridges instead of repairing them, in favor of spending money on something else, like a light rail system.

Syracuse’s urban core is seeing a residential boom. And that means the need for new transportation options, but the city’s outer suburbs are also growing.

"We have those two things going on," said D'Agostino. "And that makes me nervous as well because the further you go out, the more infrastructure you need to support it. And once the infrastructure is built, you need maintain it. And where’s the money coming from?" 

D’Agostino says the biggest question mark right now is Interstate 81. The state transportation department hasn’t decided on whether they will replace or tear down the highway’s path through Syracuse. D’Agostino says they’ll have to amend their vision plan when that decision is made.

"So we’re going to have to go in knowing there’s a big question mark in the middle of one of the largest pieces of infrastructure in our community," he said. "But I can say with certainty, regardless of what you do for 81, we have all these other pieces of infrastructure we have to wrestle with anyway."

But the SMTC is on a deadline. They have to get this plan out by early October.

Separately, later this summer the SMTC will begin a study on the possibility of bus rapid transit or a light rail system.

The SMTC's presentation documents are available on its website and it is taking public comments online on the plan so far through next week.