While the wait continues for I-81's final environmental impact statement, debates are continuing on what should, and could, happen for the surrounding towns and villages as a result of new construction efforts.
New York State's recommendation is for a community grid, a proposal that the town of Salina has long been vocal about, saying that it would be a devastating move for a community that's currently seeking to rebuild and grow.
Salina's leaders and stakeholders have a wish list of what they request, if the community grid plan goes forward to replace I-81. One such item is something city residents said they didn't want: a roundabout.
Another key item? The preservation and revitalization of the century-old Will and Baumer Candle Factory in the town. It's an effort already underway, I-81 grid or not, but the developers say it could all be for nothing, as the current grid plan could cut off Salina from desperately needed traffic.
The Pascarella Family is working to keep Salina's flame alive with their redeveloping plans for the old factory, well-known for its iconic smokestack; painted to look like a candle.
“This is the old safe that seems to be the talk of the town,” said developer Florindo Pascarella, pointing to a 100-year-old relic in the building. “We've been lifelong residents of this area and [the building] has been a big eyesore. So, as we were driving by, we noticed it and we had a vision. A few little twists that we can make it something that the community would be proud of, instead of what it is right now.”
The complex will soon be home to 250 luxury apartments with additional mixed-use opportunities, including a brewery. But, their vision doesn't end at the property line. Placed at the gateway to Salina, bordering I-81, the Pascarella's are concerned about I-81 changes and connectivity to the community at large.
“This cluster of roads out in front makes it difficult to do anything. It doesn’t connect all the different parts of the area, as well as leaves this area stranded,” said Pascarella.
The Pascarella’s and the town of Salina has a solution for the roadway rats’ nest.
“This area does fall within the scope of the I-81 project, and I said that, within the scope of the I-81 project, they should be looking at also putting a roundabout there so it accomplishes the mission of what they talk about: connectivity, bringing neighborhoods back together,” said Town of Salina Supervisor Nick Paro.
“It could be a win for the town of Salina; a win for the city of Syracuse. Looking at the changes to this intersection could help connect these two communities and help beautify the area,” said Pascarella.
Salina's mitigation ideas sent to the New York State Department of Transportation include requests for grants and stimulus money for future redevelopment, such as a traffic circle at Buckley and Old Liverpool Road. They are also requesting a commercial study and the removal of local tolls on the New York State Thruway.
“I continue to say that the NYS Thruway needs to make the exits between 34A and 39 free. This is a lot different than other communities. Right? Syracuse, we decide to take the Thruway to get amongst our own community. We can go from 39 to 34A just to get from one side of Onondaga to the other. I want to make sure we rejuvenate this and kind of make it a gateway between the city to Salina and attract people to this area. Have businesses here and have people coming to visit it. Right down the hill from it is the Parkway, so people can shop up on Old Liverpool Road and enjoy the beautiful park afterward or vice versa,” said Paro.
The cities of Buffalo and Albany are areas where local traffic currently does not have to pay tolls to use the NYS Thruway.
The NYS Department of Transportation responded to the town of Salina's concerns in a statement to Spectrum News 1, saying that there has been "robust public engagement since the release of the preliminary DEIS in 2019, which also included a community meeting in Salina attended by town officials and a meeting with hotel owners. We are in receipt of the public comments submitted by the Town, they are under review and we will respond accordingly as part of the process."