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During State Fair Visit, Local Officials Bend Governor's Ear On I-81

SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) - As central New York politicians met with Gov. Cuomo and his staff this week for the opening day of the New York State Fair, the topic of a major project that looms over central New York kept coming up.

It’s one of the biggest public works projects to take place in central New York in a generation. How to deal with an aging section of Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse that ferries thousands of vehicles through upstate New York every day.

It’s come down to basically two options:  a tunnel that would keep a high speed presence through the city, or a community grid that would reroute vehicles around the city.  Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney offered the governor a sense of how the community comes down on the issue.

"I told him it’s pretty 50-50. I don’t know that, but that’s my gut," said Mahoney. "Some people want a tunnel or high speed access. Some people want a community grid. But depending which one we land on, let's mitigate the concerns of the other team.”

She said she told Cuomo that the important thing is that concerns of whatever option loses out, should not be lost in the final decision.

"Why do people want a high speed highway, and can we mitigate that if we have a community grid, and vice versa. That’s the conversation we had," she said.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh is decidedly on the community grid team. While he didn’t speak to the governor directly about it, he did talk to administration’s transportation officials.

"We’re just going to keep pushing," said Walsh. "I told the commissioner we respect the process, but we’re anxious to get to the end of it, and he heard me loud and clear.”

Right now that process is on hold, as central New York waits for a draft environmental impact statement that lays out each proposal in detail. That’s expected late this year or early 2019. The state will make its final recommendation after that is reviewed.