The formal record of decision for the Interstate 81 viaduct project in Syracuse has been signed, Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday, meaning construction on the community grid project is now allowed to begin this fall.

"This is a new day for the City of Syracuse, one that's been decades in the making and one that will change the trajectory of Central New York for generations," Hochul said in a statement. "The I-81 Viaduct Project gives us an historic opportunity to correct an enduring injustice, and we are boldly embracing this opportunity so we can reconnect neighborhoods and revitalize Central New York communities."

This comes after a 30-day review period since the final environmental impact statement for the $2.25 billion project was released to the public in mid-April — and after 16 years of discussions, planning, studies and meetings on the subject.

The existing elevated portion of the highway that has run through the city since the 1960s will be replaced by a new Business Loop 81 with an integrated community grid that will disperse traffic along local north-south and east-west streets. Portions of interstates 481 and 690 will also be reconstructed to accommodate high speed traffic going around and through the city.  

"Syracuse lace up your work boots because the feds have just given the final greenlight for construction to begin on the transformation of I-81," Schumer said in a statement Tuesday. "This decision now clears the way to unify divided neighborhoods and to breathe $2.25 billion in new life to revitalize this area. We will build a better future here in Syracuse that shows what enlightened and equitable transportation infrastructure can look like."  

Phase 1 of the project will include work on the northern and southern sections of Business Loop 81, work on I-690 over Crouse and Irving avenues and the conversion of I-481 to I-81, including a number of road and bridge improvements along the corridor.

I-81 Project Director said the state DOT still has a lot of work to do and they will be available to the public throughout the project. The department promises to have a public outreach center dedicated to the project for people to come to with questions or concerns.

"Just because we get to the record of decision, that does not mean that we put our head in the sand and we just blindly go forward," said Mark Frechette, the I-81 project director for the state DOT. "DOT will be involved every step of the way to manage the project. Through the end of the design phases into the construction phases. We will still be working with the community. We will still have outreach."

Vocal opponents of the community grid were also on hand Tuesday. Onondaga County Legislator Charles Garland, a Democrat, said legal action appears to be the next option to fight against the community grid.

"Well, as African Americans, we see it as the same old formula. They are going to move us out," he said. "They're going to displace and gentrify that area. The same traffic same toxins they say that are killing us they are going to redivert them right back into the African American community at ground level a hundred times worse."

There are five contracts up for bid to complete the massive project that includes replacing 50 bridges and miles and miles of interstate. The project will also replace some of the current antiquated stormwater systems with improved stormwater trunklines.

The DOT said the bid process for awarding this year's phase one is already narrowed down to three candidates, and more contracts will open up over the next 12 months. Construction is expected to last through 2025.

State Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli and state Sen. John Mannion have put forward bills in the Legislatuere to drop New York Thruway tolls in the Syracuse area during the project. They believe it will help mitigate the traffic and cost impacts on commuters during the construction.

Both say the bills moved forward Tuesday and they are hopeful to get their bills passed before the end of the session.

Assemblyman Magnarelli tells us his bill could go up for a vote on Friday, June 3.


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