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New federal transportation bill brings help for I-81 project

Ellen Abbott
Rep. John Katko discusses the federal transportation bill in the shadow of the aging I-81 viaduct through downtown Syracuse.

Passage of the transportation bill in Congress last week includes some good news for central New York as it gets ready to rebuild a major transportation artery through the city of Syracuse.

The legislation is the first long-term highway bill passed by Congress in over a decade. The $305 billion bill will provide funds for fixing roads and bridges and for the upkeep of mass transit. But for Syracuse-area Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus), one of the high points is the designation of I-81 as a “high priority corridor.”
"It means that it’s going to the top of the heap for funding purposes, and it’s going to go to the top of the heap for the environmental review period.  So it’s going to be a little more expedited process,” said Katko.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
The I-81elevated viaduct through downtown Syracuse.

This comes as the state and federal government continue the process of deciding what should happen to the aging Interstate -81 viaduct through downtown Syracuse, which will soon reach the end of its lifespan.  The state is considering several options, including reconstructing the viaduct through the city, creating a street level boulevard and a depressed highway-tunnel option. Katko says the new federal destination could move things along, particularly in regards to the required environmental studies and the needed funding,

"It’s going to be probably 2017 before the designs are ready, and sometime in late 2017 or 2018 before the shovels go in the ground.  But that was before this bill was passed, so it may be a quicker time frame than that.”

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.