I-81

A sharply divided city argues over whether to keep a major transit link running through downtown, or to route it around the outskirts of town.

It’s nearly the same debate going on today, but this was in the 1920s. Then, Syracuse was arguing over whether to build an elevated rail corridor through downtown, as Dennis Connors, curator of the Onondaga Historical Association explains.

A group of architects and urban developers favoring the removal of the interstate through downtown Syracuse are out with a drawing of what the city could look like if the roadway was gone.

The group, ReThink 81, is making the argument that tearing down the elevated highway would make room for economic growth, where currently the roadway creates a gap in economic vitality between downtown and University Hill. The highway bisects those two neighborhoods.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Another study, another round of public comments. It may seem like the decision-making process on the future of the elevated Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse will never end. 

An end is in sight, even if it’s still far off. Transportation officials say they hope to make a decision on whether to rebuild the viaduct, divert it around the city or tunnel it underground, in 18 months to two years.

Rebuilding Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse will mean impact to properties along it. Now a group opposed to that has outlined what impact a new, wider elevated highway could have on the cityscape.

The state transportation department says as many as 40 buildings in Syracuse could have to come down to make way for a wider highway cutting through downtown, since a new viaduct would have to be up to 30 feet wider to meet regulations for modern roadways.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Tighter curves built into a new Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse could mean fewer buildings along the highway’s path would need to be torn down.

Rebuilding the mile and a half of elevated interstate through the city is one of two options transportation planners are recommending for how to replace the current, aging viaduct.

But a new viaduct would have to be significantly wider than the current one in order to be up to highway standards. It could also be up to ten feet higher.

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