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Driscoll says money should not factor into decision about I-81's future

Tom Magnarelli
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Matt Driscoll.

The commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation and the former mayor of Syracuse, Matt Driscoll, returned to Syracuse on Wednesday to give an update on the I-81 viaduct project. Engineers are currently analyzing each proposal for the interstate's future.

Driscoll says he is seriously considering three plans: a new viaduct replacement, a community grid with the boulevard option or a tunnel. While each plan has its pros and cons, Driscoll said money should not be a deterrent for any of the options. 

“I think it’s bigger than just a highway, it’s really an opportunity for us to redefine ourselves for the next 100 years and we want to make the best decision we can,” Driscoll said.

An environmental impact study is being done on each plan, including the option of what would happen if nothing is done. The study should be complete by the end of 2016. Driscoll said regardless of which option is selected, they will still have the opportunity to direct the flow of traffic through on-ramps and off-ramps to help struggling neighborhoods. One criticism of the current I-81 is that it divides Syracuse's south side, which has some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.

Regardless of which plan is chose, Driscoll said one or more major contractors are going to come in which will lead to sub-contracts.

"I will encourage the use of many local sub-contracts as we can," Driscoll said.

Driscoll also expressed support for minority and women owned enterprises (MWBE).

"The governor has raised the bar on MWBE participation to 30 percent, that's a strong goal that I'm driving DOT towards," Driscoll said. "So all of that will come into play when we figure out where we're headed."

Driscoll wants to make a final recommendation to the governor by mid-2017, which is near the time when the viaduct is predicted to reach the end of its useful life.