I-81 serves as an economic backbone for the region, connecting commuters, tourists, patients and students with local businesses, attractions, healthcare facilities and higher education institutions, while also providing a direct route through and connecting the rest of the community with Downtown Syracuse. Tearing down I-81 and rerouting it around the city could have profoundly negative economic and public safety consequences while also clogging traffic in Syracuse, which today is known as a “20-minute city” where you can get anywhere in a short period of time.
Over the last 50 years, many employers and organizations have strategically located themselves near I-81. Numerous hotels, restaurants, gas stations and the Destiny USA shopping and entertainment complex would face a substantial loss of visitors and revenue if I-81 traffic were to be diverted away from the city.
The current I-81 traffic pattern plays a key role in public health and safety. Officials in neighboring towns like Skaneateles, Geddes, DeWitt and Owasco have expressed concern that an increase in big trucks hauling large volumes of trash and hazardous waste would pass through their communities if the state chose to tear down and reroute I-81.
Moreover, emergency services rely on the quick and efficient access I-81 provides to city hospitals. A congested, street-level boulevard with traffic lights would increase the amount of time it takes for emergency responders to reach their destinations. In these instances, even the smallest delays could be disastrous.
A diverse group of concerned citizens, elected officials, employers, unions and community groups are already on record in support of maintaining I-81’s current alignment and Interstate Highway designation through the city. The Onondaga County Legislature, by unanimous vote, recently voted to ask the DOT to retain the Interstate Highway through the city rather than downgrade it to a boulevard. Similarly, the Town Boards of Salina, Owasco, Geddes, DeWitt, Sennett and Fleming have unanimously approved similar resolutions, asking DOT not to downgrade I-81 into a boulevard.
Maintaining the highway’s current route and designation through Syracuse is essential to the region’s economy and accessibility. Of the alternatives that have been proposed, those that maintain the existing alignment and Interstate designation present the best options. Removing I-81 and rerouting traffic away from the city would negatively affect public safety, undermine the ease of accessibility that Syracuse is known for and would cripple an already fragile local economy.
Tony Mangano, owner of four hotels near the viaduct: Interstate “81 is a very important artery. … It’s Main Street to my kind of business.”
Casey Jordan, Onondaga County legislator from Clay: “It would be a huge mistake to make it a boulevard. It would effectively eliminate one of the main attractions of living in this area: the ease with which you can get around the community.”
Kathleen Rapp, Onondaga County legislator from Liverpool: “We’re asking planners at the DOT to be sure that we continue to have a federal highway coming through our city and not going around our city.”
Greater Syracuse Hospitality & Tourism Association: “We are strongly opposed to the possibility of removing or diverting Interstate 81, as we believe that access to hotels, businesses, attractions and points of interest in our community will be negatively impacted.”