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I-81’s future is in your hands

Syracusans offer input at public forum

An aerial view of I-81. The city is in the process of gathering public input on the future of the interstate that divides the city.

An aerial view of I-81. The city is in the process of gathering public input on the future of the interstate that divides the city. Provided

— At the public I-81 Challenge held May 9 at the Oncenter, the study to determine the future of the road that divides the city took another step in the rehabilitation process by displaying thoughts from the May 2011 meeting, while also gathering more information from the more than 450 people who attended the forum.

There are five master strategies that have come to light. The first is a maintenance only idea, while the second would be to rehab the road and all bridges. The third is to reconstruct the road and replace the bridges. Another option is to depress the road and build tunnels; the last is to replace the road entirely with an urban boulevard.

James D’Agostino, director of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, spearheaded the event. He warned that the process is still in the early stages.

“Keep in mind that I-81 is an interstate highway and therefore must comply with a long list of federal regulations and requirements,” he said. “It’s expected that the federal government will fund a significant portion of the cost of whatever is decided. So ultimately, we must meet their requirements.”

The SMTC is overseeing the public input process for the New York State Department of Transportation, hence the Challenge. D’Agostino said there has been a ton of public input, and that the forum provided another chance for those who were unable to be at last year’s meetings to give their opinions. If you weren’t able to make it on May 9, you can still give your input online at theI81challenge.org.

The problem is, according to the SMTC, that the current structure consists of 124 separate bridge spans, which doesn’t meet current highway design standards. In the 1960s, physical constraints forced engineers to design the highway with tight curves, narrow lanes and minimal shoulders. From I-81 through the 690 interchange, the accident rate is 500 percent compared to the state average, according to a fact sheet provided at the forum.

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