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CenterState CEO recommends “Community Grid Plus” in discussion on the future of Interstate 81

By Eric Reinhardt

Date:

Interstate 81 in Syracuse (Eric Reinhardt / BJNN)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — CenterState CEO, Central New York’s main economic-development organization, is recommending a “Community Grid Plus” solution in the discussion about the future of Interstate-81.

It builds on the foundation of the New York State Department of Transportation’s (NYSDOT) proposed Community Grid alternative with 10 points of enhancement, per a document that CenterState CEO released on Friday.

Robert Simpson, president and CEO of CenterState CEO, outlined details of the organization’s recommendation in a Friday morning news conference at the CenterState CEO downtown Syracuse office.

The organization says it recognizes that no single solution — grid, new viaduct, or tunnel — is adequate to fully maximize the economic transformation and social benefits of this project for the region.

The Community Grid, however, best reflects the values set forth by CenterState CEO, and these Grid Plus enhancements seek to address more than just the roadway by advocating for additional elements to more fully meet the economic, environmental, social, and transportation needs identified by the community throughout this process. CenterState CEO said it is “committed” to working with stakeholders across the community to “add to, refine and advance these enhancements.”

“Our perspective is that each of the three alternatives has pros and cons and that we get one chance to make this right. Community grid is the best foundation, but the community grid itself does not solve all of the economic and the social and the cultural concerns that we’ve heard surface in this debate, so wrapping our arms around those issues and working collaboratively with partners to tackle those is more likely to get us to the right place in the future,” Simpson said during Friday morning’s presentation.

Robert Simpson, president and CEO of CenterState CEO, discusses “Community Grid Plus,” the organization’s recommendation on how to handle the future of Interstate 81 in Syracuse. Simpson addressed local reporters during a news conference held at the CenterState CEO office at 115 W. Fayette St. in Syracuse (Eric Reinhardt / BJNN)

CenterState CEO’s 10 points are outlined below.

Regional roadway and public transportation improvements

CenterState CEO contends this project “should go beyond tackling just the elevated portion of I-81 through the city by addressing the entire regional transportation system,” per the document.

It suggests incorporating public-transit enhancements — in advance of I-81 construction — adopting recommendations of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council’s current mass transit study (SMART 1).

Other recommendations include:

  • Designating remaining spur sections of I-81 north of the I-690 interchange and south of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive as the “I-81 Business Spur.”
  • Improving the Bear Street corridor to enhance transportation infrastructure and support the development of the Inner Harbor and the surrounding area.
  • Adding an additional lane to I-481 between exit 3 (Fayetteville/Dewitt) and the northern interchange of I-481/I-81 in both directions as well as other places where appropriate.
  • Redesigning interchanges and over/under passes along I-481 for safe pedestrian, cyclist, and vehicular traffic flow.
  • Developing and implement plans that create an interconnected system of bike and pedestrian ways in communities divided by I-481.
  • Eliminating tolls on the New York State Thruway in the Syracuse area to facilitate east/west traffic movements and accommodate truck traffic.

Minimize “common features” impacts

The “common features” are elements of the project that the NYSDOT plans to construct regardless of the alternative selected.

To minimize negative impact to Syracuse’s Northside community, CenterState CEO recommends eliminating the construction of the “missing links” between I-81 and I-690 and additional lanes for I-81 north of downtown between I-690 and Hiawatha Boulevard.

The missing links are the two links that weren’t created when the highways were originally that would send 81 South drivers to 690 West and 690 East drivers to 81 North.

“The conversations that we’ve had with both stakeholders in Franklin Square and on the North Side feel that those missing links will cause impacts in those neighborhoods that aren’t necessarily … warranted at this time,” Jonathan Link Logan, co-director of the Northside Urban Partnership (Northside UP), who also spoke during the Friday morning news conference.

Northside UP is a program is CenterState CEO.

Environmental improvements

CenterState CEO recommends a “full examination” of noise impacts along the portions of I-81 remaining as spurs in the city, as well as the current I-481 corridor, and development of a plan to work with local residents to design and install sound-attenuation measures, “where appropriate, that also provide environmental benefits.” Examples of these would include vegetation for filtering pollutants and solar panels to generate electricity, per the document.

Mitigation fund

A special fund should be established to provide financial assistance “as necessary” for communities and businesses that may have a reduction in traffic, developing new opportunities to invest in “demand drivers” to increase visibility for visitation and overnight stays.

The fund could also benefit urban-design assistance to “enhance” all communities adjacent to the highway; implementing a “comprehensive, holistic mixed-use and mixed-income revitalization plan” for the East Adams neighborhood; and mitigating the loss of parking in the city of Syracuse.

Inclusive employment commitment

CenterState CEO says it would like to see a “strong commitment to inclusive employment and contracting opportunities,” providing preference for contractors and employers that ensure jobs created by the project are filled by local minority and women-owned business enterprise contractors and residents.

Revitalization commission

Establish a revitalization commission to “give a voice” to all community stakeholders to shape a revitalization plan moving forward. This group would develop strategies and metrics to turn excess land within the city back to the community for redevelopment and rebuilding the local tax base.

It would also incorporate inclusive development principles for property disposition and construction activities. The group would also consider how to assist the suburbs in developing lands adjacent to I-81 and I-481.

Mitigate trucking impacts on towns and villages

CenterState CEO also recommends working with community partners to address concerns about truck traffic.

That would include mitigating issues related to truck traffic in the western towns; on city streets; in the towns along I-481 as truck traffic shifts east to access the “enhanced” CSX terminal in DeWitt; and encouraging more shipments to travel by train.

It would also include developing a “comprehensive” rail and freight plan for the region; and transferring ownership of certain state routes to the county or locality, enabling them to regulate truck traffic. 

Maintenance fund

The organization recommends establishing a special fund to ensure the long-term maintenance of infrastructure and city streets used for the community grid.

Traffic coordination and signal enhancements

Improve traffic flow and congestion at peak travel times by coordination and optimization between state-,county-, and city-owned signals.

Construction-process improvements

CenterState CEO would like to see measures taken to “better utilize this opportunity for the community’s benefit.”

Those measure would include breaking the project into smaller components to allow more local contractors a “better opportunity to bid on and be engaged with the project.”

They would also include using a design build or conventional design, bid, build delivery processes to their best advantage on the different components of the project.

Contact Reinhardt at ereinhardt@cnybj.com

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