I-81 History


Take Action

Join us in support of saving I-81 to protect Syracuse’s economic future!

Zip Code

For more than 50 years, Interstate 81 has served as a crucial backbone for Central New York’s transportation infrastructure – putting residents, visitors and through-travelers alike within easy reach of key destinations throughout our area.  I-81 provides access to downtown Syracuse, the area’s hospitals, Syracuse University and other vital locations.

Part of the Interstate Highway System established by the Eisenhower Administration, I-81 was originally built in our region during the 1950s and 1960s to carry traffic between Pennsylvania and Canada as well as to bring commuters into and out of Syracuse. Throughout the past five decades, the portion of I-81 passing through Central New York has played an increasingly critical role in our region’s economy.  According to the NYS Department of Transportation’s I-81 Challenge website, five of the 10 largest employers in the region are located near the highway.

Many small employers also look to I-81 as a “Main Street” for their business operations. Hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses are strategically located along I-81 throughout the region and rely on the highway’s local and through-traffic as an important source of customers and revenue, which in turn helps them grow their businesses and the region’s employment base and also provides significant tax revenue to the City, County, and State.

I-81 also plays a key role as a shipping route, with long-distance haulers using the highway as an alternative to the heavily trafficked I-95.  The NYS DOT notes that, according to the I-81 Corridor Coalition, an estimated 12 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product travels on some portion of the I-81 corridor.

Portions of I-81 in our region are now rapidly approaching the end of their useful life and will need to be rebuilt, removed or replaced.  This includes the 1.4-mile elevated highway that runs through Downtown Syracuse, which will reach the end of its lifespan in 2017. Transportation officials in Albany have considered several options for the elevated highway, including repairing the highway or removing it and replacing it with a new elevated highway, tunnel, depressed roadway or a street-level “boulevard” that would remove I-81 from Syracuse and the adjoining communities, rerouting it to the east, away from the City.

The Save81.org coalition believes that from among the options to deal with I-81’s aging infrastructure, the highway’s present traffic pattern and alignment throughout our region must be preserved.  Any scenario that re-routes I-81 away from the city could irreparably damage employment centers that have grown up along the highway, as well as hinder the prized ease of accessibility enjoyed by our region’s residents, workers, and visitors every day.

Photo Source:
Onondaga Historical Association. “I-81 Construction.” Photo. Syracuse.com 1960s. 18 Jul 2013<http://media.syracuse.com/news/photo/0625-i81construction-with-hjpg-4711ea15bd6796ae.jpg>.