Syracuse Common Council continues debate on I-81 options through Syracuse

Interstate 81 is seen in Syracuse (CNYCentral File Photo)

The Syracuse Common Council Transportation Committee met Tuesday night to review the options going forward for Interstate 81's future through the city.

The options remain to either transform the highway into a community grid, move 81 underground through a tunnel or to simply rebuild the aging I-81 viaduct in the same footprint where it stands now.

RELATED | Tunnel option for I-81 would take at least $3 billion, 9 years to build, study finds

The Common Council chambers were filled with the public to share their opinions, guided by claims of major traffic problems if the interstate goes away.

Mitchell Latimer just had a family accident. He doesn't want to see I-81 through downtown disappear because he thinks it gets him to hospitals quicker.

"It took me about less than five minutes to get from Liverpool to Golisano Children's Hospital," he said. "At that moment, it felt like a life-threatening injury to me as a father. I can't imagine what I would of done if we didn't have 81 to get there."

Engineering studies showed drive-times to Upstate University Hospital would not be delayed. The most recent community grid plan would disperse traffic on several roads, not just a single boulevard.

"The community grid option hurts the city. It provides another boulevard that is non pedestrian friendly," said Frank Usiatynski.

Syracuse's 5th District Common Councilor Joe Driscoll said the council and Mayor Ben Walsh have supported the community grid option to replace the highway.

But some new councilors have different ideas, so that's why he called for the meeting.

"An opportunity for all sides to present to listen to everyone and kind of gain," Driscoll said. "We called it a fact finding mission. We wanted to hear what the data and researchers have said and what the community feels about these different options."

Retiring state Sen. John DeFrancisco urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to continue evaluating the tunnel option. Earlier this year, the governor ordered an additional study and those results are expected to be released early next year. Then the state DOT will make its recommendation.

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