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Common features of I-81 reconstruction would expand lanes, interchange north of viaduct

Tom Magnarelli
This portion of I-81, north of the viaduct, would be expanded from six lanes to eight lanes as part of the state DOT's plans.

Regardless of which option is chosen as the replacement of the Interstate 81 viaduct through downtown Syracuse, there are some common features in all the plans. The New York State Department of Transportation would expand I-81 north of the viaduct and add a new interchange. 

Some businesses and organizations in the area are objecting to the Common Features proposal.

The sounds, smells and Interstate 81 itself would get a little bit closer to apartments and businesses in the historic Franklin Square area of Syracuse if I-81 is widened from six lanes to eight lanes.

Doug Sutherland of Franklin Properties wants the Common Features proposal eliminated from Interstate 81 reconstruction plans.

“Imagine if you’ve just spent $10 million, maybe more, on this particular project and you hear that your front door is going to be looking into an interstate highway,” Sutherland said. "When you put a high-speed roadway that might be appropriate for a rural area, in an urban setting, the property next to those high-speed roadways is degraded in value."

The Common Features proposal also includes the construction of a new I-81 and I-690 interchange.

“It’s the largest redevelopment project in Syracuse history," Sutherland said. "At the moment it’s being shaped by highway engineers. We need to be able to create something that is more holistic, that is fine-grained, working within the historic fabric of our community.”    

Nineteen buildings, including revitalized apartments, businesses, even a historic church, north of the viaduct, could be demolished. Stakeholders say hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in these neighborhoods.  

Dominic Robinson of the Northside Urban Partnership said the state DOT has been receptive to listening to their objections but Robinson and others have also been holding community meetings to get the word out.

“We have every belief and expectation that the Department of Transportation is going to be a partner on this," Robinson said. "We also can’t take anything for granted though, so we have to stake our claim and make sure our voices are heard. We believe that Syracuse can continue to see growth and vibrancy in its urban core. That's already happening. So, to make planning decisions that actually fly in the face of the trends that we're seeing in our time, to go back to an old model that has proven to hit its limit both locally, and nationally, doesn't make any sense.”  


Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.