Syracuse's I-81 vs. Boston's Big Dig: Matt's Memo

Professor Virginia Greiman in Onondaga County Civic Center.

This lawyer, educator and author from the academic world of Boston sat on the large leather chair on the small stage of the Carrier Theatre wearing tomato red eyeglasses. Professor Virginia Greiman visited Syracuse from the Boston University School of Law to teach the Central New York community a few key lessons about how to make a mega public works project a success.

She took questions written by the audience and Twitter followers. The evening's host, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, sat opposite the professor in another cushy leather chair. Mahoney read one question from a Tweet which asked the longtime project manager of Boston's Big Dig whether it's better to make highway changes mega-projects or a smaller series of events that can be better managed.

Greiman loved the question. She quickly answered. After nine years running the Big Dig she wishes they had broken it into pieces. She recommended the Syracuse area break the project into elements that are small enough to "turn into mash."

She visited our station earlier in the afternoon. I took time to talk to her about her outside view looking inside at the I-81 debate. She told me she loves the input and transparency that has gone into the process so far. But, she was clear that we are in the very early stages or even just starting out in our planning phase. That may be hard to hear for a community that is several years into planning for the future of the deteriorating elevated section of the interstate.

Greiman also suspects the true solution has yet to appear for moving vehicles through Syracuse in a more modern and expansive way. She predicts it will come by grabbing from here and there, testing and tuning the concepts.

The woman who consults on projects like this in places in Boston, Seattle and New Orleans does not like to tell a community what it should decided. So, I asked her what is her view of rebuilding an elevated highway in exactly the same place, but with new modern materials.

She said that would be the loss of a great moment of opportunity. Greiman stressed the importance of creativity and collaboration in making this decision. The Big Dig took some twenty years of planning and construction in Boston. She thinks Syracuse needs to look down the road a generation or more to create a vision that will transform.


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