Syracuse has long been known as a “20-minute city,” where residents and commuters can easily reach most destinations in 20 minutes or less. The elevated portion of Interstate 81 that runs north-south through Downtown Syracuse, which will reach the end of its useful life in 2017, plays a key role in providing this convenience to area residents.
Few American cities of similar size can boast this kind of reputation, and this accessibility is a prized feature of living and working here. It is a major contributor to the high quality of life enjoyed by Central New York residents. The ease with which emergency services can move within the region also plays a key role in public safety, allowing first-responders to quickly reach the scenes of emergencies and hospitals.
But a plan for dealing with I-81’s aging infrastructure that would re-route away from Syracuse the portion of I-81 that now runs through and connects the rest of the community with Downtown Syracuse could significantly increase traffic congestion, threaten an already fragile economy, and erase our region’s reputation for accessibility. This change would result in longer commute times to and from work; increased gas consumption and increased air pollution; more vehicles inundating small towns throughout the region; and longer response times under emergency situations.
Officials must choose an option for I-81 that maintains the highway’s current alignment and Interstate Highway designation and preserves the quality of life upon which area residents have come to rely.
For many Syracuse employers, Interstate 81 acts as a “Main Street” that delivers customers to their doors on a daily basis. Many businesses are strategically located near the Interstate highway and rely on the revenue brought in by travelers driving on I-81 through the region.
These businesses – including hotels, restaurants and other commercial establishments – have grown up along the highway and now depend on it for revenue that can be reinvested to grow, expand and hire new employees. Diverting I-81 traffic away from this corridor could do irreparable damage to these businesses and the regional economy. Through-travelers would simply follow I-81 away from and around Syracuse and not stop in the city for food, gas, entertainment or other services; resulting in lost revenues that could lead to layoffs.
The decision-makers in Albany must not forget about our Central New York commuters, visitors and employers, who rely on I-81’s current form and function for their livelihoods and quality of life. Any plan that would alter I-81’s traffic pattern could lead to a loss of jobs and damage our already fragile local economy.
The Greater Syracuse region is a destination for sports, the arts, education, shopping and recreation. Thousands of visitors regularly descend on the area to take advantage of these enriching opportunities. One feature they can always rely on is the easy access to all of these key destinations that I-81 provides.
Local leaders have spent decades promoting our area’s attractions and the convenient access visitors and tourists have to those attractions. Altering the current, efficient flow of traffic on I-81 through the area would be counterproductive, confusing and could create traffic nightmares for visitors and residents alike. That’s one reason why officials in Albany must choose a path forward for I-81 that maintains the current I-81 configuration.
Interstate 81 plays a critical role in the lives of the thousands of area university students and their families. I-81 provides easy access to LeMoyne College, Onondaga Community College, Syracuse University and the Carrier Dome, each of which draws tens of thousands of visitors to the area every year for sports, entertainment and cultural events. Families rely on the highway’s current configuration for convenient access to hotels and restaurants when they come to Syracuse to visit family members.
Downgrading I-81 to a “boulevard” and diverting I-81 away from the city would make the university less accessible for students and their families. A street level boulevard in this already congested area with six or eight lanes of traffic would pose safety hazards for area pedestrians. New York State must ensure that the convenience of Interstate 81 is preserved for students and their families.
Timely access to the hospital complex in downtown Syracuse can literally become a matter of life and death. In addition to being some of our region’s largest employers, the hospitals in Downtown Syracuse currently enable easy access for emergency and specialized health care. Rerouting traffic to these vital facilities could have a detrimental impact on the health of our citizens and the care that is provided to those who come here.
Photo Source: Long, Lauren. “Syracuse Aeria.” Photo. The Post-Standard 1 Aug. 2013 <http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/05/new_us_census_report_syracuse.html>.