The New York State Department of Transportation on Tuesday began its public hearings on the Interstate 81 viaduct project in Syracuse.

Last month, the DOT released the draft environmental impact statement, a revised plan for the community grid alternative, and is asking for feedback.

One group that has been very vocal for years to keep I-81 running through the Town of Salina rather than making I-481 the new I-81 is a group of hotel owners.

They say tired travelers making same-day hotel reservations on I-81 in Salina makes up 30% of their business. They fear that will decrease significantly with the proposed community grid replacing Interstate 81. The DOT said their study shows only a 1% decrease in business in that area.

Jacqui Paikin runs the Hilton on 7th North Street for E&M properties and she takes issue with that number.

“They never called any hotels or general managers to speak to them, and no ownership groups of this area to ask them, and we do have that data. It’s just nothing close to those numbers," Paikin said.

Paikin said I-481 is a hotel desert and the plan could have a major negative economic impact.

“When you’re, in effect, having somebody skip over our area, they’re going to have to stay somewhere. The next populated area south isn’t in Onondaga County, so all of that revenue we’re losing," Paikin said. "And it doesn’t just affect hotels. Guests who stay with us typically need to fuel up for gas. They ask for a nice place to eat. They might grab a bite in the morning.”

There are 14 hotels in Salina near the I-81 corridor. According to the Onondaga County comptroller, the county collected more than $7 million of revenue from room occupancy tax in 2019.

“On a slow night, just at our hotel alone, we might get 15 people that just come in on the same day," Paikin said. "Typically, though it is 30. It would easily be 20 to 30 rooms."

Mark Frenchette, the director of the I-81 Project for the DOT, takes issue with the hotel group's argument.

“Our analysis showed that the percentages were far less impactful to the hotels than that 10-12% level," Frenchette said. "The traffic volumes aren’t dropping that much in those areas."

Frenchette said the DOT is ready to listen and learn from hotel owners and any businesses that have concerns about this project.

“We would be happy to take a look at any information that people would like to provide for us," Frenchette said. "We lumped all the hotels together. Mainly looking at what are the traffic volumes on I-81.”

“There’s not currently any hotels on 481 that would help us keep that business and revenue in Onondaga County and I think that is what concerns all of the hotel owners and the other businesses," Paikin said.

Frechette added that he will make his economic analyst expert available at the public hearings this week, as well as the neighborhood meetings set to happen over the following weeks.

The I-81 in-person public hearing sessions and open house are Wednesday, August 18 from 3:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.