More than 15,000 pages and more than seven years, all to plan what to do with 1.4 miles of elevated Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse.

The vast I-81 viaduct draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, is now in the hands of the Federal Highway Administration.

Taxpayers first saw a preliminary plan in April 2019. THe New York State Department of Transportation said updates to the DEIS will focus on I-481 at state routes 5 and 92 in DeWitt, as well as changes to accommodate the new Amazon warehouse at the I-481 and Kirkville Road exit. The options for I-81 though have not changed.

Mark Frechette is the NYSDOT I-81 Project Director and he said the NYSDOT "still believes the community grid is the preferred alternative and the document that we just turned over to our federal partners continues to carry the viaduct replacement and no-build option."

Now the plan has gone to the Federal Highway Administration for them to review the newest draft and decide between a community grid, viaduct replacement option or a no-build option.

Not even local leaders can see this latest draft until FHWA completes their review, due to policy. Some support the grid plan fully.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh remains excited at the community grid prospect.

"I cannot think of a better project than a $2 billion infrastructure project that will provide thousands of accessible jobs to local residents and spur investment for generations to come," he said.

Republican Rep. John Katko reminds that not only the city of Syracuse will be impacted by this build.

"It's a regional project and it has to be treated as such," he said. "People on the northern area of Salina for example are very worried about the hotels and hotel traffic and the lack of commerce there. Destiny USA is worried about the lack of traffic going to their facility and that's something you need to consider. They generate $50 million on a good year in sales tax revenues."

"Save 81" supporters worry about a detrimental economic impact to their communities.

Colleen Gunnip, the Town of Salina supervisor feels the community grid will hurt her town. 

"The governor has been very vocal about creating new infrastructure and improving our infrastructure in our state. But yet in Syracuse they want to tear down our infrastructure. It's contradiction to what his plan is."

Gunnip worries of other potential dangers from a grid roads plan too.

"The other concern is with everyone going to the hospitals during the pandemic, the medical transportation needing 81 to get to the hospital as quick as possible with everything that's been going on," Gunnip said.

NYSDOT and federal officials said this is a long process, and now it will be even longer due to a pandemic. The final DEIS can't be released unless it is safe to have in-person public community meetings within 45 days of the reports release. 

Rep. Katko added the pandemic on top of a laborious system could extend the process another year.

"The approval process for highways and public works are insane in this country. They take so long," he said. "There is so much bureaucracy involved. There's got to be a better way and we need to streamline these processes."

Katko hopes to improve the process.

The congressman reached out to the Federal Highway Administration to have a meeting to go over the next steps for the I-81 viaduct plans and ways to bring it to the public, even in a pandemic. Mayor Walsh has planned an I-81 Big Table jobs meeting for August.