I-81 viaduct project gets new director
Ground breaking for the long-awaited Interstate 81 project in Syracuse is set for this spring and a new face will lead central New York through a project that has divided the community.
Betsy Parmley is the new I-81 Viaduct Project Director. An engineer by trade, Parmley has been working for the state Department of Transportation for almost 20 years and now takes on the biggest public works project in Syracuse history.
"My job is to really make sure it’s all running like a well-oiled machine," Parmley said.
There have been some bumps in that machine. It’s taken more than a decade for the state to come to a consensus to take down a community-dividing viaduct in downtown Syracuse and replace it with an at-grade community grid. There is still opposition to that idea, playing out in the courts in a lawsuit trying to stop the current plan.
But, the first phase of the project is able to move ahead. Parmley said the first contracts will begin work on the Interstate 81-481 Interchange this spring.
"We are widening in some sections, and that's what they’ll start to see that work that’s beginning that widening," Parmley said. "We’re building out the embankment to build some pavement.”
After that, work on I-81 south of the city, then each phase of the six-year $2.25 billion project moves toward the city center, ultimately taking down the crumbling viaduct.
"I have this vision in my head what I think Almond Street will look like, business loop 81 will look like, it's going to be so transformative, so different," Parmley said. "Every type of user will be able to benefit from this not just vehicles — pedestrians, cyclists, families. It'll be so different than what's currently there."
In the meantime, Parmely said one of the biggest parts of her job during all this is to be a communicator-in-chief.
"We'll continue to have meetings where they can come to us," Parmley said. "I hope to go out to the community. We'll have our outreach center where they can learn about the project."
She said she won’t try to change anyone’s mind about the project, despite some continued grumbling.
"Some people just won’t change their mind and that’s okay," Parmley said. "Our job is to really educate them so they understand the big picture, and if I can help someone understand the project every day, then I’m doing my job."