Changes coming to Interstate-81 may leave you stopping, going, beeping for your entire morning commute

Changes+coming+to+Interstate-81+may+leave+you+stopping%2C+going%2C+beeping+for+your+entire+morning+commute

By Marc Murdoch '14, News and Features Editor

Interstate 81, connecting Le Moyne students to the train station, Destiny USA, the airport and commuters to home and back, may receive renovations ranging from a facelift to a complete overhaul, if officials can overcome local opposition.

The project officially began on Monday, Aug. 25 with a request for an environmental impact statement to determine how viable changes to I-81 would be. The Federal Highway Administration turned down the original request from state officials because it was “too vague,” and it needed “to make sure it was including more than one option as it embarks on the first major phase of the project,” according to a report by YNN reporter, Bill Carey.

Apart from the typical wear on the highway as it ages, “the existence of I-81 through Syracuse has not brought an economic boon to our region,”  Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council member, Rob Simpson, said in a press release. “We have lost people and business since the viaduct was constructed.”

“The highway, of course, does not bear all of the blame,” he continued before warning against romanticising the highway’s benefits. In other words, the existence of I-81 as a raised highway has not increased visitors to downtown Syracuse and may be blamed for part of the economic downturn in the last decade. There is also no possibility to develop the land underneath the existing viaduct.

Current proposals for alternate highways include a surface-level highway, an underground passage, a recessed highway [canal] and revising the current raised structure. Different plans could cost anywhere from $700 million to $1.5 billion, according to Simpson.

City officials seem to favor the idea of a multi-lane, surface-level boulevard as this was the only alternative to the viaduct in their original proposal.

In the weeks following the announcements for renovation, many residents of Syracuse and the surrounding area voiced their opinions and concerns on social media and in the comments section on syracuse.com. The concerns ranged from how ambulances would be able to navigate with the highway closed for construction to how the road becoming a state highway through the city will affect taxes.

Moreover, Syracuse residents can express their opinions more formally on the proposed changes during public forums. Many meetings will be held during the process of revising the highway. One took place this past Wednesday, Sept. 25.

However, officials are still facing heavy opposition through these multiple methods of input. Last week, The Central and Northern New York Building and Construction Trades Council, composed of over a dozen unions and local businesses, voted to oppose the current proposal for a surface-level highway, saying it “does not make sense.”

For the Le Moyne populace, these changes could severely alter traffic around the college for years to come. One of the points in the proposal states that during construction, traffic could be rerouted to I-481, which loops around campus and the south end of Syracuse. This detour could potentially cause congestion on Erie Boulevard and East Genesee Street around campus.

Additionally, the temporary closing of the Syracuse section of I-81, including the I-690 exchanges, could be detrimental for those travelling to and from Le Moyne, both within the city and towards the outer limits of Onondaga county. While it’s still too early to speculate how the new roadway will affect Le Moyne students’ short and long-term travel, students are encouraged to have their voices and concerns heard at the city’s upcoming forums.

More information on the proposals, progress and public meetings can be found at http://thei81challenge.org/