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Schumer to Buttigieg: I-81 is a ‘top priority’ for NY

Senator Chuck Schumer Facebook
Sen. Charles Schumer with Pete Buttigieg.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), soon to be the majority leader, said he specifically raised the Interstate-81 reconstruction project in Syracuse with Pete Buttigieg, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. transportation secretary. In a virtual meeting, Schumer told Buttigieg it’s one of his top priorities for New York state.

In a statement, Schumer said he discussed with Buttigieg the need to deliver legislation “that will ensure I-81 reconstruction has all the resources it needs to finally begin construction.”

“This infrastructure bill must also prioritize investment in underserved areas like communities of color that have been disproportionately harmed by projects like I-81 in the first place,” Schumer said.

They also discussed working with labor unions and hiring programs to make sure local residents get access to I-81 reconstruction jobs.

“I’ve always said once a decision is made by the community on what to do with I-81, my job is to deliver the maximum amount of resources and funding for the project,” Schumer said. “As Majority Leader, I will use all the clout to get it done.”

In 2019, state DOT selected the street-level community grid as its preferred option to replace a mile of the elevated I-81 viaduct in downtown Syracuse. A larger elevated highway is also viable, just not preferred. It would cost more, take longer to construct, and would destroy more buildings than the community grid. A tunnel option was thrown out because of construction concerns and cost.

This comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also recently laid out an array of infrastructure projects that includes I-81. Cuomo said the obsolete and poorly designed viaduct will be transformed into a modern transportation corridor, and the project will break ground in 2022. The state will conduct more environmental and public reviews this year.

Joe Morrissey, a spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation said the draft environmental impact statement is still under review by the Federal Highway Administration. When that is complete, the document will be released to the public and a public hearing will be held. But because of the pandemic, it’s difficult to hold a large-scale public hearing.

“We are actively working with FHWA on potential solutions that meet the requirements under the environmental review process while emphasizing the safety of the public,” Morrissey said.

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.