Could the lack of a Transportation Bill affect the future of Route 81 in Syracuse?

Route 81 in Syracuse

Could politics in Washington affect plans for the future of Route 81?

Since 2009, the House and Senate have failed to come up with a long term Transportation Bill, which recently forced President Obama to enact another short term, three month extension of federal transportation funding.

In March, the Senate passed a $109 billion bill that would fund transportation projects for two years. Members of the House of Representatives have proposed a five year measure that would amount to $260 billion, but have yet to pass such a bill.

Caught in the middle of the debate is the Route 81 corridor project.

The New York State Department of Transportation has decided that the part of Route 81 that cuts through the middle of Syracuse will have to be either repaired or replaced by 2017. The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC) has been seeking public input on various proposals which include rebuilding Route 81, or deconstructing the highway and replacing it with a boulevard, tunnel, or bridges.

Next month, the SMTC is expected to hold a public meeting to bring the community up to date on the progress of coming up with a strategy for the Route 81 corridor.

Director James D'Agostino says it's difficult to do long term planning without long term funding. He points out that the Transportation Bill contains no earmarks or member items which have helped steer planning for the Route 81 corridor project in the past.

D'Agostino figures when the community decides on a strategy to replace or repair the highway, officials statewide will have to come together to sell the project to decision makers in Washington who will control funding through the Transportation Budget.

One community leader who intends to lobby in Washington is Syracuse Common Council President Van Robinson.

Robinson is concerned about the lack of progress on a long term Transportation Bill. He says the Route 81 corridor is among the top 6 major highway projects in the nation. He says Syracuse is the only city in the nation with a highway that cuts right through its middle that needs to be replaced.

Robinson favors turning Route 81 into a ground level boulevard and re-routing traffic around the city via Route 41.

"It's not a matter of if Route 81 will come down, but when it will come down," Robinson says.