Syracuse makes Top Ten List of Freeways without a Future: Matt's Memo

Syracuse is not alone among Upstate New York cities when it comes to the Top Ten list of Freeways without a Future. Syracuse has the aging elevated section of Interstate 81, Rochester has the Inner Loop and Buffalo has the Route 5/Skyway. The Congress of New Urbanism feels so strongly about the negative effect of the placement of these highways in their respective communities they CNU feels they should all be torn down.

The organization publishes a report that dedicates a page or two to each community. It does not include any in depth analysis. It recaps some of the summaries of a multitude of studies down on the viaduct section of 81 through downtown Syracuse: "Despite pushback from opponents, several other Syracuse organizations have joined the teardown coalition to lobby state officials to consider replacing I-81 with something that returns value to the city of Syracuse. Supporters have suggested nearby I-481 could act as the main carrier for through-traffic, while elevated I-81 would be replaced with an urban boulevard that would reconnect downtown neighborhoods, be less costly to maintain, and increase economic activity along the corridor."

Increasing economic activity along the corridor is a goal worth exploring. The interstate highway cutting through the city pushed economic activity out of downtown. Inspiring new action through a different approach may be well worth the risk of venturing into an unknown result of a major infrastructure change.

There is a litany of valid reasons to leave the highway the way it is or at least in a newly conceived yet similar path and design. Yet, so many of those reasons are based on assumptions that have strong opinions backing them, but little empirical evidence. Some people think changing 81 would slow accesibility to hospitals. Others think changing 81 would send trucks through Finger Lakes communities like Skaneateles. Others thing changing 81 would keep people from shopping at Destiny or staying in a hotel near the intersection of 81 and the Thruway. We don't actually know whether any of those concerns will bear out.

There are not that many opportunities to reshape a community in a way that will be felt for generations. This is one of those opportunities. Maybe it's a time for a group of key leaders to tour a handful of cities where highways have been removed to see what opportunities were created. Options can then be reviewed and engineering studies completed.

We want Syracuse off this Top Ten list and switched to a Top Ten list that recognizes the city's that made the greatest rebound between the year 2015 and 2025.


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