Rethinking the future of Interstate 81
YNN has been taking a closer look at the history about Interstate 81 in Syracuse. The more than a half century old highway that carries close to 100,000 vehicles every day is now being considered for reconstruction. In the second part of our series, YNN's Erin Clarke takes a look at the discussion about its future.
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Decades after Interstate 81 was built running through Syracuse, about 4,100 feet of elevated I-81 bridges known as viaducts are nearing the end of their lifespan.
"You look up, you'll see the rusted iron. You'll see the concrete ready to fall. It is a pollutant," said Syracuse Common Council President Van Robinson.
"There are curves that aren't adequate, that are too tight. Many of the ramps are too close together and don't have enough acceleration, deceleration lanes. The interchange with 690. It tries to do too much," said Bill Egloff, DOT Civil Engineer.
The structure has to change. With only routine maintenance, many parts of the viaducts would be in serious trouble by 2020. The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, a local transportation planning organization working with the DOT, wants to make sure that this time, changes are made with the public's input.
"That's our job to take the engineering speak that comes out of the department and make it something that everyone on the street can understand," said James D'agostino, SMTC Director.
Through a series of public meetings and information posted to the I-81 Challenge website, the organization is educating and listening. They are taking suggestions on a future vision for the highway and discussing the options.
"We should really look at opportunities to break down barriers that exist and while this isn't the Berlin Wall, it really is problematic for Syracuse," said Dr. David Smith, Upstate Medical University President.
Problematic, both Dr. Smith and Syracuse Common Council President Van Robinson say, because it prevents synergy between downtown and the University Hill area.
"You have an opportunity to bring in new residents, you have an opportunity to bring in new apartment buildings, also office buildings," said Van Robinson.
"We want to have our campuses connected. We have a west campus now, as well as, of course the campus here on the hill and we need to be one," said Dr. Smith.
The men also cite health concerns associated with the highway running through Syracuse.
"The amount of traffic and truck traffic that goes by and the amount of diesel load that goes by, even with the new efficient engines. The particular matter in that smoke, the exhaust is actually very small and very fine and it actually gets its way down into the very smallest parts of the lung," said Dr. Smith.
Right now, SMTC is considering all points of view. Nothing is set in stone for this multi-million dollar project.
"We want them to take a look and make sure we've captured all their ideas and that the strategies that we're moving forward with are those that the community thinks we should be moving forward with," said D'agostino.
Ideas offered are to remove the viaducts and create a boulevard, re-route traffic onto I-481 and get rid of 81 between the 481 interchanges, create an underground tunnel or rebuild I-81 as is to today's standards.
What SMTC wants is more people to join in on the public discussion and help come to a single decision. The community together on one concept makes it much easier for politicians to back and funding to come through.
"We want to make sure people know that there's a study going on and that they're not taken by surprise down the road when a decision will eventually be made," said D'agostino.