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Supporters of I-81 viaduct say larger, taller skybridge would build consensus

Provided by Charles Garland
A rendering of the Skyway, which supporters say would be tall enough to fit a six-story building underneath.

Following a visit to Syracuse on Tuesday by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, opponents of having only a street-level community grid replace the I-81 viaduct, are renewing their calls to keep the interstate running through the city. Their latest idea is having a grid with a skyway bridge above it.

Councilor Nick Paro with the Salina Town Board said contrary to what Buttigieg and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said, the community is divided on I-81.

“We wanted to let them know that there’s people you came to town to, that are stakeholders that you haven’t met with, that we’ve asked to meet with you, and you still haven’t sat at the table and heard our concerns,” Paro said.

He said an alternative plan, called “Grid + Skyway” is gaining momentum. It would include the community grid below, with a larger, taller high-speed skybridge on top of it. Paro said they’re backed by the Save 81 group, and while more details have yet to be released, they think this will build consensus and they want the state to take a serious look at it.

“We agree with the grid, let’s have the grid, but at the same time, let’s not then destroy other neighboring communities by tearing down the high-speed thoroughfare and the commercial corridors that have been built around this high-speed corridor in the surrounding towns and other neighborhoods,” Paro said.

The Town of Salina has a lot at stake if I-81 is rerouted to I-481, which goes around the city to the east. Restaurants, hotels, truck stops and gas stations have been built up around the I-81 exits in Salina. The town estimates that commercial assets could decrease by 50%, a loss of $350,000 in tax revenues, if the highway loses its interstate designation.

The skybridge has support from some Syracuse residents like Charles Garland, who won the Democratic primary for Onondaga County legislator. He just heard about this idea, but it’s an option he thinks should be studied. He’s afraid not just Salina, but Destiny USA, the baseball stadium and regional market will all be negatively affected by having just the community grid. 

“Once they take down 81, if they don’t do something to rectify that, that whole area will die,” Garland 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.