After a decade-and-a-half of debate, various proposals, legal battles and several anticipated construction start dates that have come and gone, Friday marked a step forward for the Interstate 81 viaduct project in Syracuse — an endeavor officials say aims to improve transportation flow through the region while reconnecting communities the same highway divided during its construction a half-century ago.

“Finally this day has arrived,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in Syracuse Friday, joined by U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, White House infrastructure official Mitch Landrieu, Mayor Ben Walsh and other local officials for a ceremonial groundbreaking of the $2.25 billion project.

“This will be one of the largest transportation projects in New York state history and arguably the most important infrastructure that Syracuse has seen in at least a century,” Hochul said.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer said the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law in 2021 was crucial to getting to this point with federal money necessary for such an undertaking.

“We couldn’t get those dollars to come in until there were shovels in the ground. Now today they will be and the money from Washington will start flowing in big, big amounts,” Schumer said.

Schumer was also a lead architect of the CHIPS and Science Act, which helped spawn Micron Technology’s $100 billion investment in the region to a build a mega fab for semiconductor manufacturing.

“With the great Micron plant that’s coming here, with I-81, boy are we turning the corner here in Central New York,” Schumer said.

But, it’s the Micron project that is part of the legal process that continues to play out even as a ceremonial groundbreaking takes place. Back in February, a state Supreme Court judge ruled no demolition of the viaduct can take place until further environmental impact studies are conducted that take into account the potential for regional traffic and population changes the Micron project will make in the coming years.

While the state is appealing that decision, work can commence on the initial phases of the project, mainly on Interstate 481, which will serve as a bypass for I-81 thru traffic.

Still, Charles Garland, an Onondaga County legislator and a member of Renew 81 For All, a group opposed to tearing down the viaduct, called the ceremony on Friday premature.

“NYS has still not met the requirements to continue, put forth in the initial ruling and there was nothing in the recent ruling to embolden them,” he said, in part, in a statement.


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