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The I-81 conundrum: Highway reconstruction will cause hassle, but something must be done

The New York State Department of Transportation is seeking public input on the reconstruction of the Route 81 viaduct through Syracuse. The structure is nearing the end of its useful life.

The New York State Department of Transportation is seeking public input on the reconstruction of the Route 81 viaduct through Syracuse. The structure is nearing the end of its useful life.

— “We’ve really ruled out the option to fix what we have,” Rapp said. “It doesn’t meet codes and it’s unsafe.”

But Rapp said she just can’t envision the boulevard.

“A boulevard, you’re talking about a four- to six-lane road that has traffic lights, because otherwise you can’t do it – I just don’t know how that would work. I’m not averse to it if it works, but they’re not there yet,” she said. “The people I’ve been talking to, for them, it’s not so much the nature of the structure. It’s the fact that they want it to work and not create a headache for them every single day. If you can do that with a boulevard, great, but I can’t picture it.”

Instead, Rapp said she would prefer to see an iconic bridge similar to the Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston.

“[The idea of the iconic bridge] came out of a discussion at the Central New York Regional Planning board. We’ve spent the last year working on a regional sustainability plan. We won a million dollars from the state to put together a plan, and we’ve been working on it for the last year. We needed a long-term project that would have a major impact on the community. Because I-81 is such a huge thing, it became a conversation of how to do it and what would work,” she said. “We started talking about an iconic structure that would give Syracuse a sense of place. It’s been done around the country, but the Bunker Hill Bridge is in the Northeast, so it’s close by. It’s a good example. It seemed to be a win-win strategy to me. There are lots of models around the country. People have come to the conclusion that it worked.”

Vitale said the iconic bridge was a possibility.

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