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Report names I-81 in Syracuse one of 10 US highways that should be torn down

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)
I-81 through downtown Syracuse.

A new national study lists Interstate-81 in Syracuse as one of America’s ten worst urban highways that should be removed. The nonprofit that conducted the report is advocating the elevated viaduct be torn down and replaced with a boulevard.

President and CEO of Congress for the New Urbanism Lynn Richards said I-81 in Syracuse made the list because active discussions about removing the viaduct have been going on for a decade.

“Do you want to spend $400 million rebuilding this stretch of highway that will essentially continue to move cars, put out more air pollution, damaging the health of the people in the surrounding neighborhood?" Richards asked. "Or do you want to spend that same money and invest in a boulevard that will create a thriving prosperous neighborhood? You’re still meeting your mobility outcomes but at the same time you’re creating opportunity for greater economic development.”

The organization lobbies for better communities for residents and businesses. Richards said the “Freeways Without Futures” report is meant to encourage using infrastructure investments to enhance the residential and commercial areas around these transportation routes.

“Many of these freeways were built through vibrant neighborhoods, historically low-income and minority," Richards said. "By taking that down and reconnecting these neighborhoods, you’re increasing access to opportunity.”

The New York State Department of Transportation said it has hired an independent expert to analyze the I-81 options, which include a street-level community grid, tunnel and depressed highway. Rochester’s Inner Loop and Buffalo’s Scajaquada Expressway also made the “Freeways Without Futures” top ten list.

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.