What’s good for Syracuse may be bad for small towns

Article originally published here.

By Ed Wagner

The Onondaga County Legislature’s resolution in support of a hybrid approach to Interstate 81 such as the Access Syracuse tunnel-boulevard plan is an important reminder that I-81’s future will have far-reaching effects well beyond Downtown Syracuse. Residents and officials throughout Central New York remain deeply concerned about the negative consequences for their communities if I-81 is diverted and a boulevard is constructed in its place.

In addition to the recent Onondaga County resolution, 10 towns as well as Cayuga County have passed their own resolutions strongly supporting the importance of I-81. These officials understand their communities would face serious problems if the highway were re-routed and replaced with a boulevard.

For years, towns west of Syracuse have struggled to combat heavy truck traffic from flooding their streets, forging agreements between landfill operators and truck owners to reduce the volume of trash-hauling trucks rumbling through their communities. With fewer trucks now on the roads, residents whose houses shook as each truck went by have finally found some peace.

We cannot afford to reverse the years of hard-won progress we have made to decrease truck traffic in our towns. But if I-81 were rerouted, these trash-hauling trucks would likely seek shorter and quicker routes through our towns rather than circling Syracuse. The infrastructure in these towns simply cannot handle this level of traffic, which will damage roads not built to handle heavy loads while increasing the risk of accidents.

Residents have also cited concerns regarding the environmental impact of diverting highway traffic to local roads. The pristine waters of the Finger Lakes are one of our region’s main attractions, bringing thousands of tourists who also visit our restaurants, hotels and stores. More importantly, the lakes also provide the drinking water for many area residents. Increasing the number of trash-hauling trucks near the lakes will result in more air pollution throughout our area and increase the likelihood of accidents that result in spills, which could contaminate drinking water and hurt local wildlife.

It can be easy to forget the I-81 discussion is not merely a Syracuse issue, but rather a Central New York issue. As we move closer to the next phase of this project, many of us in the towns and suburbs surrounding the city hope the Department of Transportation and other I-81 stakeholders hear the chorus of voices coming from the region that are concerned about what a re-routed I-81 would mean for their towns.

It is crucial to our communities that I-81’s current route through the region is preserved, whether it is through the Access Syracuse tunnel-boulevard plan or an enhanced elevated highway. We cannot afford to reverse the years of hard-won progress we have made to decrease truck traffic in our towns, and we cannot support any plan that would increase air pollution and the risk of accidental spills in our communities.

Instead, we hope Central New Yorkers will come together around a single plan that will keep Interstate 81 flowing along its current path. The hybrid plans endorsed 13-2 by the Onondaga County Legislature could do this by bringing all sides together and giving our community the best features of all I-81 options.