SYRACUSE, N.Y. — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said the work continues to improve Interstate 81 (I-81), help it meet the community’s needs, and reconnect the communities that “were once divided” [because of the highway].
Buttigieg joined U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.), along with Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, and other community leaders outside the Syracuse Center of Excellence at 727 E. Washington St. with the elevated portion of I-81 not far away across from Almond Street.
“It was 65 years ago, actually today, that President [Dwight] Eisenhower signed a bill creating the interstate highway system. It was an extraordinary achievement, but we know that the planners behind it also made choices that often routed new highways directly through Black and Brown neighborhoods, doing lasting damage to those communities, and one of those highways is right next to us. I-81 was built … right over and through the 15th ward and displaced nearly 1,300 residents from what had been a close-knit, middle class, Black neighborhood. Those who remained were cut off, in many ways, from opportunity. And over the next few decades, much like my own hometown in South Bend [Indiana], Syracuse lost about 30 percent of its population. And now the city has been rebounding in an extraordinary way. And yet these consequences and this legacy is still with us,” Buttigieg said in his remarks.
Buttigieg also joined Schumer and Gillibrand in pushing for the Reconnecting Communities Act and to make permanent an expansion of the local hire pilot program as part of the American Jobs Plan, which would help fund the I-81 project while supporting local workers and “revitalizing Syracuse,” Schumer’s office said in a Tuesday news release.
Schumer’s office said he and Gillibrand have been “vocal advocates of the need for local hire and other targeted” hiring programs as part of federally funded construction. Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) heeded the senators’ calls to implement a local hire pilot program for highway projects. The provision passed out of the Commerce Committee would provide the DOT with the authority to turn the local hire pilot into a permanent authority across all DOT programs, not just the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration.