On the Road for 81 answers: Matt's Memo

Providence, Rhode Island IWay project.

Last year the idea of a tunnel as a solution to the future of I-81 in Syracuse appeared dead and buried. Today it officially resurfaced. The New York State DOT released some artist renderings, maps and detailed slides spelling out 3 tunnel concepts that could shape the debate on what to do about 81.

These new concepts are out just two days before the DOT will run three public sessions explaining all of the options now on the table. They include variations of these three main areas: tunnels, at grade boulevards, depressed highway and rebuilt elevated.

Just as the community takes a closer look at this current slate of ideas we are about to run a series of reports that we shot On the Road in two communities that have already dealt with major changes with elevated downtown highways. Photojournalist Quindell Williams and I took a road trip to visit Providence, Rhode Island and Boston, Massachusetts.

Providence is about 15 years ahead of Syracuse on its timeline of a rerouting of I-195 through its downtown. The city first underwent a reconfiguration of commuter rail lines, then it daylighted downtown rivers and finally it removed a rundown bridge and built the new one and its connecting highways about a half mile down the Providence River.

The result of this major move is traffic that is flowing more freely with a greater level of safety. They had to built the new I-Way bridge at an off site location twelve miles away and then float it up river to put it into place. Great creativity in the engineering process. One of the side benefits is the 40 acres of land that ultimately was vacated when the old highway loop was torn down. That land is right in downtown and ready for developers.

After spending a day in Providence we made the ride north and east to Boston. We drove the tunnels and bridges of the Central Artery/Tunnel project. We walked the newly created Rose Kennedy Greenway. Perhaps more importantly we talked with the man considered the master designer of the Big Dig project, Fred Salvucci.

Salvucci led the way for Boston in the 1970's and 1980's as he fought for community consensus to change the transportation in the city. Salvucci was the Transportation Secretary under two governors including Michael Dukakis. He remains active as a consultant and expert in urban transportation.

We also talked with the robustly enthusiastic Rick Dimino. He is the current president of ABC or A Better City in Boston. That is the offshoot of a group that was once called ABC Arterial Business Community. That was the group of businesses that was intimately involved in shaping decisions about the Big Dig project during planning and construction. He spent time as the head of transportation in the City of Boston during the planning of the Big Dig.

Dimino lays down the challenge to the nation and Syracuse to be willing to take on the Big Idea. Both Dimino and Salvucci recommend our community envisioning the way we want our downtown, center city area to look in future decades and find a way to get there. They are in agreement that our elevated highway must come down. Ultimately our local community will have to decide whether tunnels or boulevards are best.

Check out our special reports: On the Road this Wednesday and Thursday on NBC 3 and CBS 5 and 5:00 and 6:00 pm.


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