A large group of politicians, citizens and businessmen and –women have launched an initiative to encourage the state to keep a 1.4-mile stretch of Interstate 81 as it is instead of turning it into an arterial boulevard.
Savei81.org revealed itself at a press conference on Thursday, Aug. 1, in downtown Syracuse, where supporters spoke out against the New York State Department of Transportation’s proposal to turn I-81’s viaduct stretch, the elevated portion of the highway that runs through the central business district, into an arterial boulevard through the city with stoplights and cross streets, something the group said would irreparably damage the city’s economy by creating a backlog of traffic. The group also issued a press release after the conference outlining its goals.
“I-81 is an economic backbone for our area, a vital artery that links city neighborhoods and suburban and rural areas with Downtown Syracuse and many key destinations,” said Tony Mangano, Savei81.org spokesman and local business owner, in the press release. “It plays a critical role in the region’s economy, public safety and accessibility. We must ensure that its current function is preserved, and Savei81.org is committed to working toward that goal.”
Fourth District Legislator Judy Tassone said she signed onto the campaign because she was concerned about the impact the reconstruction might have on local businesses.
“I signed on to this campaign because I represent so many of the businesses and people that would be affected if I-81 was to be re-routed around the city, and this would happen if they bring it down to a boulevard,” Tassone said. “I am talking about hotels, small business and thousands of people that commute into the city to their jobs every day. I do not think that Albany should be making such a huge decision that involves so many of us without our complete input representing our constituents.”
Another of the confirmed supporters is Salina Supervisor Mark Nicotra, a vocal opponent of the proposed changes to I-81.
“I signed on because of the diversity of the group. It’s not just made up of elected officials from the north suburbs,” Nicotra said. “It’s elected officials, it’s business leaders, it’s union officials, it’s people from all over the region, and we’re all on the same page. We all want to keep 81 as an interstate. We all have our own unique reasons as to why.”
The organization’s website lists more than 40 supporters. But is everyone listed really behind the initiative?
Initially, the website had also listed several state legislators and Rep. Dan Maffei, but within 24 hours of its launch, those names had been pulled and the following message had been posted:
“We inadvertently included several elected officials, including Rep. Dan Maffei, on an earlier version of this list. We apologize for the error and this list is current.”
However, it appears that statement is erroneous. Onondaga County Legislator Danny Liedka said he never signed on to be part of the campaign.
“I never signed on as a member of anything,” said Liedka, who represents the seventh district. “I actually have an open mind on the whole thing. I prefer the tunnel option, but I think it’s too early in the process to make any kind of decision.”
Cicero Town Supervisor Jim Corl also said he hadn’t officially added his name to the initiative.
“I haven’t signed onto this 81 campaign yet,” he said in an email to the Star-Review.
That’s not to say that, just because they haven’t officially added their name to the list, they’re not in agreement with its ideals. Corl has expressed concerns about the state’s plans in the past. And he’s not alone; leaders in Salina, Owasco, Geddes, DeWitt, Sennett and Fleming have passed resolutions asking the state DOT not to turn I-81 into a boulevard, while the towns of Clay, Skaneateles and others have expressed concern about the potential reconstruction.
“Leaders of numerous towns in Onondaga and Cayuga counties are expressing their concerns about the negative consequences that a boulevard could have on our area,” said Onondaga County Legislator Kathleen Rapp in the organization’s press release. Rapp represents the fifth district, which includes portions of the towns of Salina and DeWitt. “It is crucial that these concerns in our community are heard by I-81 decision-makers as this process moves forward, which is why I am looking forward to working with Savei81.org to organize these voices over the coming months.”
Nicotra said the initiative’s main goal is to raise awareness about the issues with the reconstruction and make people’s voices heard.
“The main goal of the organization is to get people more involved and to come together,” he said. “I think until this year, people didn’t think this was going to be a reality. But it is. People need to understand how this is going to affect their lives for decades to come.”
Over the coming months, Savei81.org will host events to discuss the I-81 issue with concerned residents and business owners, reach out to elected officials and decision-makers to serve as a voice for the community’s concerns and work with towns throughout the region whose residents are concerned about the potential effects on their own neighborhoods.
In order to get up-to-date information, Nicotra said it’s best for people to sign the petition at Save81.org.
“That will trigger email updates about information that’s coming up,” he said. “There’s a wealth of information out there. It goes over all of the proposals in front of us, everything that’s being considered, and the general information so you can stay updated.”
For more information about the campaign, visit Savei81.org. You can also find them on Facebook or Twitter.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.