Stand up for your community at Interstate 81 Scoping Meeting: Commentary by Mark Nicotra

The Interstate 81 project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of our region’s infrastructure. In order for state transportation officials to make the right decision about what to do with the aging portions of the highway, they must hear opinions and concerns about the project from the entire community.

This week, area residents have a crucial opportunity to make their voices heard. On Wednesday, the state Department of Transportation will host a scoping hearing at the Oncenter to gather public input about the issues that need to be considered as part of the I-81 project’s environmental impact statement. Comments made by residents during the hearing will become part of the project’s official record, and the state will respond to them in a report early next year.

Since August, has worked to organize community leaders and residents who are concerned about the state’s widely discussed plan to replace I-81 in downtown Syracuse with a boulevard and reroute the highway around the city. Our group is comprised of area legislators, business owners, labor leaders, environmental groups and civic organizations that believe a boulevard will have far-reaching and devastating effects on the region’s economy, accessibility, public safety and overall quality of life.

Replacing I-81 with a boulevard and re-routing that traffic will rob businesses along the highway of a vital revenue source, putting jobs and the local economy at risk. City streets will be flooded with more cars and congestion, meaning longer commutes and increased response times for first-responders during emergencies. More idling at traffic lights will lead to more vehicle emissions and air pollution. And towns outside Syracuse could be faced with more heavy truck traffic barreling down their roads. These are obviously unacceptable outcomes for our community. has urged officials to abandon the boulevard idea and instead focus on alternatives that will keep I-81 flowing through Syracuse and better serve the community’s needs. We believe this can be done via a tunnel, a depressed roadway, an iconic new bridge, a rebuilt elevated roadway or a different idea altogether. The state must keep these options on the table and thoroughly explore each one before making a final decision.

Many area residents agree. Nearly 3,000 people have signed our petition opposing the boulevard plan, and hundreds have voiced their concerns about the boulevard on our Facebook page. Numerous municipalities throughout the region have also passed resolutions strongly rejecting the boulevard plan.

But now is the time to turn this concern into action. We encourage the entire community to come to the Oncenter and share their comments, concerns and ideas about the future of I-81 in our area. While the state will ultimately make the final decision about how to handle I-81, we all have an important role in this process. It is our responsibility to give officials the community input necessary for them to make the right choice.

If you can’t make it out on Wednesday, the state is also accepting comments electronically or via regular mail. Residents can visit the Department of Transportation’s I-81 Opportunities website or to learn more about how they can get involved.

Our region cannot afford for Albany to make the wrong choice. Let’s make sure we give state officials the information they need so they can determine a solution for I-81 that best serves the needs of the entire community.

Related Post:

Click here to learn more about a recent poll administered by that showcases overwhelming public opposition to the boulevard option.