A meeting at the Syracuse Common Council chambers tonight was supposed to revitalize the discussion about the future of I-81 through downtown. Cases were made on several fronts about the best options. Experts explained the differences between the community grid, the tunnel and rebuilding in the current footprint of the elevated section of the highway. Interestingly, by the end of the meeting, the discussion had not advanced as people interviewed on their way out articulated opinions based on faulty data.
Mitchell Latimer provided one example. He told our reporter Tara Gibbons about a critical time for his family. He had his injured child in the car, rushing to the Emergency Room at either Upstate Hospital or Crouse. "It took me about less than minutes to get from Liverpool to Golisano Children's Hospital. At that moment it felt like a life threatening injury to me as a father," said Latimer. "I can't imagine what I would of done if we didn't have 81 to get there."
What Latimer did not realize in that urgent moment, coming from Liverpool into downtown he exited 81 and drove directly under the elevated section of the highway which is likely to be torn down. Should the viaduct be eliminated the Latimer family would get to the hospital just as quickly. They might even have a quicker route to the hospitals, depending on where traffic exits from the highway that is now the 81/690 interchange.
Another misconception came to light about the community grid option. Some people still think that proposal means all traffic that once traveled on 81 through downtown would dump onto one Erie Boulevard style road. "The community grid option hurts the city" said Frank Usiatynski. "It provides another boulavard that is non-pedestrian friendly."
That version has been off the table for nearly five years. If the viaduct comes down and the tunnel option is scrapped, traffic from the south and north would disperse on to multiple streets in the downtown area. The city of Syracuse would reap the benefits of all of its streets becoming more active. Traffic capacity is vastly under utilized in our downtown right now. Hot spots may occasionally feel crowded, but spreading out travel patterns would prove to be an asset.
This decade long discussion is not likely to result in a true community consensus. In the coming months, or year, a decision will have to be made about the best option for the community. It is critical that accurate information and a desire for renewed opportunity drive the ultimate choice for the way drivers will travel in and around Central New York for generations to come.