Rep. John Katko talks I-81 with central New York tourism industry leaders

Article originally published here

SYRACUSE | For more than an hour Wednesday afternoon, business leaders and tourism industry officials from throughout central New York had the ear of their congressman.

U.S. Rep. John Katko headlined a travel and tourism roundtable at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse. Attendees included Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon, Cayuga County Office of Tourism Executive Director Meg Vanek and representatives from Syracuse-area hotels.

While the discussion focused on modernizing Syracuse Hancock International Airport and attracting international tourists to the region, it shifted to the future of Interstate 81 when Tony Mangano, owner of the Ramada Syracuse hotel, raised the issue in a question to Katko.

Mangano’s family owns hotels near I-81. The elevated portion of the highway, which extends through the city of Syracuse, reaches the end of its useful life in 2017 and there are a handful of proposals being considered to either rebuild or replace the viaduct.

With different views on how to move forward with the I-81 project, Mangano said it’s important to have leadership and reach a consensus on one of the proposals.

“This is a very complex issue,” he said. “A lot of us in this room know and understand that 81 is extremely vital to our businesses. We’ve invested millions and millions of dollars to be right near 81 and the thought of part of it going away is pretty scary to a lot of people.”

Mangano said most of the funding would be provided by the federal government, which Katko confirmed during the exchange. But Katko said the funding would likely be provided as block grants to the state, which could then be used to finance the project.

Katko, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he has taken a leadership role on the project. He said his efforts helped ensure that multiple options were included in the I-81 scoping report released in April by the state Department of Transportation.

According to Katko, the report was due out in January. But because he insisted that the state DOT include more options in its scoping report, the release of the report was delayed until April.

“I think until we have concrete ideas and proposals that we can look at and say, “This is what we want,” I think you do a disservice to people,” he said.

Aside from I-81, hockey was a hot topic. Just hours before the meeting, the American Hockey League and Syracuse Crunch announced that the War Memorial would host the AHL All-Star Game in 2016.

Katko, a lifelong hockey enthusiast who played club hockey in college and coaches his sons’ hockey team, said having the AHL All-Star Game come to Syracuse next year is “a big deal.”

“I think it’s great,” he said. “I told Howard before we came in to sit down that I would like to have the congressional hockey game here, too.”

Katko lauded other sites outside of Syracuse, including landmarks in Oswego and Wayne counties. He also touted historic sites in Auburn, specifically the Seward House Museum and Harriet Tubman Home.

“Those are the types of things I think we’ve gotta push about central New York,” he said.