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I-81 tunnel in Syracuse is feasible, study says

A rendering from the study conducted by engineering consultant WSP that shows the Orange Alternative, deemed the best of the tunnel options.

An independent study of the tunnel options to replace the Interstate-81 viaduct in Syracuse was released Monday. The study said tunnel options are feasible, which contrasts the analysis the New York State Department of Transportation made last year.

In 2016, officials with the state DOT cited cost and environmental factors as reasons for eliminating the tunnel option. After an outcry from local politicians and some in the community, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an independent study of the tunnel. I-81 Project Director Mark Frechette said the report is meant to ensure they make the right decision.

“Based on community input, we agreed to take a look at more tunnel solutions," Frechette said. "At this point in time, I am reviewing these findings to see the merits of it. We need to take a look at that and see how it fits into the solutions that have been developed to date.”

Those other solutions include rebuilding the current viaduct or replacing it with a street-level grid.

Frechette said the study analyzes seven different tunnel options.

"I don't want to speculate as to what each of those options are promoting," Frechette said. "I would encourage people to take a look at the document and see what the merits are for each of the options that they have studied."

One tunnel option was deemed the best choice in the study. It would cost more than $3.5 billion and take nine years to complete. The tunnel would align immediately west of the current viaduct, connect with I-690 and include a street-level grid. 22 properties would be acquired and 12 buildings demolished. A decision will be made early next year.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner urged the DOT to only study the street-level grid options. She released the following statement.

“This study reaffirms the previous work done by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and what many in our community have long suspected: a tunnel option would take nearly a decade to build and have an outsize price tag. A tunnel is not feasible financially and would have detrimental impacts on the economic and social health of our community. I would urge NYSDOT to remove the tunnel alternative from consideration in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and proceed only with options which focus on connecting the street grid, opening up more land for potential development, and improving the quality of life for Syracuse residents.”

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.