Results of I-81 surveys provide insight for transportation officials (Your letters)

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Letter originally published here.

To the Editor:

As a local business owner who relies on Interstate 81 to bring customers to my front door, I was encouraged by a pair of recent surveys showing that many in our region support maintaining the highway’s current north-south, high-speed route through Central New York. These polls should provide state and federal transportation officials with more clarity about what our community wants for an I-81 solution.

A Siena College poll conducted in September found that 52 percent of respondents want I-81 to continue along its current path in some fashion, with 39 percent supporting a new viaduct and 13 percent supporting a tunnel. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by State Sen. John DeFrancisco found an overwhelming 83 percent of his constituents want to preserve I-81’s current path. Only 17 percent of respondents support a boulevard option that would re-route I-81 around Syracuse.

Of course, these results do not mean that our community has made a final decision about what it wants for I-81. As Sen. DeFrancisco has said, we still need more facts about the options currently on the table before we can truly forge a consensus.

However, these surveys allow residents to voice their opinion on the issue and give us an idea of what many consider to be an important piece of any I-81 solution: preserving the highway’s current route through the region.

This echoes what many local business owners, including myself, as well as union leaders and other stakeholders have been saying since the beginning of this process. I-81 is an essential economic artery for our region, supplying a customer base for hundreds of businesses in Syracuse and surrounding communities. These businesses, in turn, support thousands of jobs in our area.

Removing this vital artery could seriously damage our region’s economy, which is obviously an unacceptable outcome for any I-81 solution.

This does not mean that a rebuilt viaduct is our only option for preserving I-81. The recently released Access Syracuse tunnel-hybrid plan would maintain I-81’s current alignment while satisfying the calls of those who want the viaduct torn down. This plan has the potential to truly bring the community together and forge consensus on a single option, and the Department of Transportation owes it to area residents to fully analyze the plan and report back with all of the facts.

But to forge any real consensus, we need to know what the community is thinking. That is why surveys such as the one conducted by Sen. DeFrancisco are so vital to this process. It would be easy for our elected officials to stand on the sidelines during this debate, but Sen. DeFrancisco has shown great leadership by sharing his own views and making an extraordinary effort to understand what his constituents are thinking.

These polls can provide valuable information about where the community stands on I-81 and how we can move forward in finding a consensus solution. For now, transportation officials should be paying close attention to these results if they are truly concerned with choosing an I-81 option that the community wants.

Jim Bright