Big idea to near reality in building a new I-81 through Syracuse: Matt's Memo

Matt Mulcahy reporting live from i81 Challenge meeting in Syracuse.

Some ten years ago Van Robinson took a hard look at the elevated section of Route 81 through downtown Syracuse. The view rekindled his long simmering negative feeling about the highway that divided a city and accelerated the disbursement of people to the suburbs. He heard it was nearing an end of its usable lifespan. He envisioned an opportunity that could change the community for a couple of generations to come.

When I talked with the Syracuse Common Council President on NBC 3 news tonight he described the idea of building the viaduct at its current location as 'idiotic'. He wants it to come down. He thinks a grade level boulevard can be transformational for the Central New York region while causing little harm to the ability to travel briskly from the south side of the city to the north. He was one of many people motivated by this big decision to turn out for the i-81 challenge meeting.

James D'Agostino could hardly contain his excitement of a successful public comment session at the i81 Challenge meeting at Syracuse's OnCenter. The Director of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council had worked intensely with his staff and the New York State Department of Transportation to present a detailed glossy review of an updated timeline of events on the future of 81 through downtwon Syracuse.

Organizers had hoped for 500 visitors over a four and a half hour session. Instead the first 500 had come through the doors in the initial two hours. There was a steady stream of business people, politicians and citizens with an interest in the future of Central New York.

The displays walked guests through the early stages of the lengthy process of selecting a future plan for 81. The busiest area held the detailed analysis of the final two plans for rebuilding 81.

One section detailed reconstructing an elevated viaduct through downtown Syracuse. It included artist renderings, a map of the route and data about traffic delays or improvements that would come with this option. The next section had the same list of descriptive panels for the option of tearing down the elevated highway and replacing it with a boulevard through the 1.2 mile section that runs near Almond Street.

A consultant has now been hired to analyze the two primary options including extensive environmental analysis. A decision is likely still two years away.

Any questions or comment please forward them to I may even use some of your thoughts on NBC 3 News at 5:00, the 10:00 News on CW6 or on

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