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Tunnel & depressed highway options back for I-81 reconstruction through Syracuse

Tom Magnarelli
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State speech in Syracuse.

In his State of the State speech in Syracuse, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that planning for Interstate-81 reconstruction in downtown Syracuse will once again include studies of the tunnel and depressed highway options. Those are two options that the state Department of Transportation previously eliminated.

Members of the audience applauded when Cuomo announced the return of the tunnel and depressed highway options.

The state will hire an independent firm with international tunnel experience to study three options: a street-level community grid, a tunnel and a depressed highway. The study will also include combining the community grid with either a tunnel or a depressed highway. Cuomo said the issue is complex.

“We want to make sure we look at it from all angles to make the best decision we can," Cuomo said. "We want to do some more study to make sure we have all the alternatives.”

This is a reversal from state Department of Transportation plans to release an environmental impact statement early this year including only the community grid and rebuilt elevated viaduct options. Cuomo said with the tunnel and depressed highway back, the review will try to find the option that is most feasible and economic.    

“Once that report is done, it will be shared with the public, we’ll have a conversation, we’ll make a decision,” Cuomo said.

Local lawmakers and residents of the community pushed hard on state DOT officials for another look at the tunnel. Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) said the decision comes closer to a regional consensus. That is because the tunnel avoids rerouting traffic around the city and eliminates the elevated viaduct. Studies on the reconstruction of I-81 through downtown Syracuse have been going on since 2013.

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.