SYRACUSE According to local traffic experts, I-81 is nearing the end of its useful life.
The highway was originally constructed in the 1950s and 1960s to provide an alternative to I-95 for traffic from Canada to Pennsylvania through New York state, as well as to provide a route for local traffic in and out of the city of Syracuse. Now, the roadway, particularly the elevation portion running through the city, is deteriorating, and within the next decade, significant action needs to be taken to repair or replace it.
Onondaga County Legislator Kathy Rapp, who represents the fifth district, spoke to the Salina Town Board Monday, March 25, about the various options to reconstruct the I-81 bridge. In addition to representing a portion of the town of Salina, Rapp is policy chair of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC), which has been researching the project for several years.
“By 2017, the useful life of I-81 will be over,” Rapp said. “It has to be changed.”
Rapp said the New York State Department of Transportation is considering two major options for the project. The first is to demolish the existing bridge and construct an arterial through the city. The second is to rebuild the existing bridge.
There is, however, a third option: to build an iconic bridge through the city. Rapp said the bridge could be a suspension bridge similar to the Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston. Such a construction would free up the land beneath, making property available for green spaces, bike lanes, pedestrian walkways and development. The bridge, she said, would allow commute times to remain similar to what they are now.
“We have an opportunity to think big and try to put something in place that people really want,” Rapp said.
Rapp said that some might reject the bridge idea as too expensive.