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Public response prompts DOT to study economic impact of I-81 project north of Syracuse

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Mark Frechette at the I-81 open house in June.

The New York State Department of Transportation is going to study how the Interstate-81 project will impact Syracuse’s northern suburbs economically. This comes after elected officials and business owners voiced their concern that tax revenue and hundreds of jobs would be lost in their area, if the state goes through with its current plan.   

The DOT released a preliminary report in the spring that outlined a street-level community grid as the preferred alternative to replace a mile of the elevated I-81 in downtown Syracuse. High speed access would continue in the area north of Syracuse, but that section of highway would be reclassified as Business Loop 81 and the Interstate-81 designation would move to I-481, east of the city. Mark Frechette, I-81 project director, said public response from their open house and neighborhood meetings, prompted a further economic analysis.

“What the community in some of the northern suburbs are asking for is really more indirect costs," Frechette said. "If a certain number of traffic from I-81 were to go over to Interstate-481, what would that economic impact be?”

Frechette said they would also further study the economic effects of the whole project, including the areas south of Syracuse, the valley, and I-481. He would not speculate if the results of the analysis could change the DOT’s recommendation of the community grid.

“Part of us, doing more work and part of us doing more analysis is to really understand the project as fully as possible,” Frechette said. “I truly believe that it’s been through a lot of this engagement that we are making the alternatives better.”

In a statement, Town of Clay Supervisor Damian Ulatowski, an opponent of the community grid, said he welcome's DOT's willingness to take another look at the project, although he said, they could have bridged this divide a long time ago, if all the stakeholders were at the table from the beginning.

"Yes, I see some positive movement here and welcome the DOT’s willingness to take another look at the project as a result of what the Save 81 coalition has brought to light. It is, however sad to see that it takes a fight in the press to get any attention. We could have “bridged” this divide long ago had we had all the stake holders at the table from the beginning. That’s the transparent way to vet a project." -Damian Ulatowski, Supervisor Town of Clay.

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.