Another Exit? More Job Details? What Syracuse’s Leaders are Expecting in Upcoming I-81 Plan

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Syracuse, N.Y. – Lawyer Lanessa Owens-Chaplin wants the portion of Interstate 81 that hangs over some of the city’s poorest families to come down.

But that doesn’t mean that she, and the New York Civil Liberties Union that she represents, agree with all the details currently inside the state’s $2 billion plan to take down I-81 and reshape Syracuse’s highway system.

So she and other local leaders have been meeting with state transportation officials to talk through concerns that range from public safety during construction to congestion during rush hours.

In some cases, they’re having some success.

Two years ago, the DOT’s plan called for using a part of Wilson Park – the main green space within the Pioneer Homes public housing complex – as the I-81 project’s staging area. After pushback from the community, the state has changed course, Owens-Chaplin said.

“It’s not going to be a staging site, but they will add fencing as a buffer” to keep people from getting too close to the construction site, she said.

She said she expects that change to be in the state’s Department of Transportation’s newest version of the I-81 plan, an environmental review that’s expected to be released later this month.

But other parts of the plan that concern the NYCLU will likely remain, she said. “There are some things that still needs to be worked out,” she said last week. Some others agreed.

Two years ago, DOT released its preliminary plans and declared that tearing down 1.4 miles of I-81 near downtown is the best way forward for the aging highway and for Syracuse. The plan calls for rerouting highway traffic onto nearby Interstate 481 and expanding the city’s street grid system to handle thru traffic.

That overall argument for the state’s “community grid” plan is not expected to change, Mayor Ben Walsh and many others said.


Nearly everyone wants to know about jobs: How many will there be? Will local suppliers and contractors get some of that $2 billion? Will there be more details about who will have a space at the front of the employment line?

“Mark Frechette has assured me that we will,” said David Mankiewicz, a vice president at CenterStateCEO, about the state’s I-81 project director’s pledge to include more job details in the upcoming report.

A DOT spokesman confirmed the ongoing discussions but provided no details about what may be in the next version of the plans.


“This is a once-in a lifetime opportunity to reshape transportation in this community,” Mankiewicz of CenterState said.

He said it could do more than change driving patterns. It could help people start careers in the construction industry. It could help local unions and regional construction companies expand. It could prepare the community – and maybe the nation – for new transportation technologies.

“This project, when it’s done, should be a national model,” Mankiewicz said. “It should be a modern transportation solution. We want to see it incorporate some forward-looking technologies. And community involvement and neighborhoods. We’re looking for the regional benefit.”

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Post Date

Jul 9th 2021