Syracuse's I-81 debate gets personal

Ryan Delaney
September 26, 2013

The 1.4 mile elevated stretch of Interstate 81 running right through downtown Syracuse will soon need to be replaced. A decision is penciled in for 2017.

After a series of studies in the spring, two options were deemed most feasible: rebuild the elevated highway as an updated - and wider - viaduct. Or tear it down, reroute the interstate to the existing I-481 bypass, and put an "urban boulevard" in its place.

Since then, opposition to the boulevard has grown as local business owners claimed it will hurt their bottom line. Several politicians and local leaders have called on transportation officials to think bigger than just the two options.

The state Department of Transportation has repeatedly said no decision has been made and no option has been eliminated.

Syracuse Common Council President Van Robinson has long been a champion of seeing I-81 torn down, but he admits his side may be losing the public relations battle at the moment.

ROBINSON <When people begin to hear the pros and cons of each proposal in a realistic way, I think we're going to see a change in attitudes.>

For those who live with the highway out their front door, the decision on Interstate 81 is more personal. The state D.O.T. kicked off a series of public meetings at Toomey Abbott Towers on the city's south side, the elevated highway clearly visible out the window.

There was little discussion about a tunnel versus boulevard, but instead about how the decision will affect where they live.

Many, like Patti Monday, are worried what construction will mean for their homes.

MONDAY <We live here, for God's sake. I care about getting kicked out of my home in five, six, seven years.>

The state D.O.T. will host a larger public meeting on November 13. The decision on I-81's future will ultimately come down to them and the Federal Highway Administration.