© 2024 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

I-81 director on community grid plan: ‘Access into and out of Syracuse will be fast’

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
I-81 Project Director Mark Frechette, right.

Officials with the New York State Department of Transportation are highlighting some of the key features in their preferred alternative to replace the I-81 viaduct in Syracuse, the community grid. While many residents in central New York are concerned with losing I-81, most of the high-speed access into and out of the city will remain.

It’s being called Business Loop 81. Much of the existing I-81 highway in Syracuse, above I-690 and below Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. East near the Carrier Dome, will continue as a freeway.

"Access into and out of the city of Syracuse, will be fast, in a high-speed fashion," I-81 Project Director Mark Frechette said. 

But a 1.2 mile stretch of elevated highway between I-690 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. East, will be removed and replaced with a system of streets known as the community grid.

"The community grid downtown will improve safety and traffic operations, access into the city, and create direct routes to key destinations," Frechette said. "We believe it will relieve congestion and get rid of a lot of the bottlenecks that exist today. This solution will provide good travel times and level of service within downtown."

The community grid will have a total reconstruction of Almond Street, which runs beneath the existing viaduct. It will be converted into two, 12-foot wide lanes in each direction, with bicycle and pedestrian enhancements and a planted median. Various one-way streets in the area, like Harrison St., Adams St., and Crouse Ave., would be converted into two-way streets. And there will be new interchanges onto I-690.

Interstate 481 will become the new I-81 to bypass the city. Multiple upgrades, including adding more lanes, will be made to the 481 corridor. Plans to add missing connectors between the current I-81 and I-690 on the north side of Syracuse have been dropped.

The community grid will acquire four commercial buildings, the least amount of the various options. While many people outside the city of Syracuse were hopeful a tunnel option would be selected, the report from the DOT labeled that option as unreasonable. DOT said the tunnel would cost close to $5 billion and take 11 years to construct. The community grid would cost around $1.9 billion and take about 5 years.

The DOT is in the process of setting up a public informational meeting, but the date hasn’t been set yet.

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.