Since the 1960s, Interstate 81 has been an indispensable transportation artery that serves as one of the Syracuse metro area’s major commuter corridors, linking city neighborhoods and suburban and rural areas with downtown Syracuse, city hospitals, Syracuse University, the Carrier Dome and other key destinations. I-81 is also a major corridor for trade and long-distance commerce, with its southern terminus at Interstate 40 near Dandridge, Tennessee, and its northern terminus on Wellesley Island at the Canadian border. It is a vital backbone for the region’s economy and plays an important role in the region’s public safety and accessibility.
According to the New York State Department of Transportation, portions of I-81 in Central New York are nearing the end of their useful life and must be either repaired or replaced over the next several years. This includes a 1.4-mile stretch of I-81 built on an elevated roadway, or “viaduct”, that runs through Syracuse’s Central Business District. This portion of the project is attracting significant scrutiny because some of the ideas being proposed to fix it would change traffic patterns in a way that could irreparably harm the area’s economy and accessibility.
Planning the future of the highway and how it passes through Syracuse and Onondaga County is a rare opportunity to improve the region’s infrastructure and provide for future economic growth. Of utmost importance, planning must be done in a way that doesn’t jeopardize public safety, quality of life, traffic flow and local commuters, shoppers and employers. At this point, several options are being considered for dealing with the 1.4-mile viaduct that runs through the city.