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CEO FOCUS: I-81 Community Grid Offers the Region a Brighter Future

By Robert Simpson


More than just a major piece of infrastructure, I-81’s community grid reflects where Central New York is headed. [That is] a future where economic and community development decisions benefit groups that have historically been overlooked or left behind. 

Our community is proudly on a new trajectory, one of growth and evolution, thanks to investments like Micron. We can no longer allow Central New York to be mired in old ways of thinking and problem-solving. A status-quo mentality represents a shortsighted vision and will only stand in the way of truly realizing this opportunity to drive new investment and progress. We must move forward, learning from our history, to create a new economy that serves the interests of all Central New York residents and businesses.

Many business leaders and people of this region rallied around the selection of the community grid as the best plan to replace the aging viaduct, and CenterState CEO has long advocated for additional improvements that strive for the best outcomes for our entire community. Thirteen years of planning and community engagement cannot be undone. The laborious and meticulously thorough process led by the New York State Department of Transportation, which included data-backed decision making and the voice of thousands of citizen and stakeholder comments, cannot be discredited. 

Yet, [this fall], longtime opponents of the project brought forward a lawsuit to challenge the approvals of the I-81 reconstruction project. A judge [on Nov. 10] issued a temporary restraining order creating a new delay for the future of the highway. This new, frivolous lawsuit represents nothing more than a transparent attempt to further stall what has already been resoundingly decided by the majority of this community. The plaintiffs put parochial self-interests above maximizing regional benefit and hold Central New York back from reaching the full potential of this opportunity. Neither data, environmental progress and protection, nor fiscal responsibility align with this effort to delay. At the very least, additional delay adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of construction, wasting tax-payer dollars on a project that needed to be completed several years ago.

Together, we have done the hard work and now it is time to move toward a more prosperous and equitable future. We deserve nothing short of the transformative impacts that are supported by the community grid. I call on all those who seek to delay and prevent this community from moving forward to work with the stakeholders and leaders of this community to advance the community grid and help position Central New York for the bright future that is before us.        

Robert M. Simpson is president and CEO of CenterState CEO, the primary economic-development and chamber of commerce organization for Central New York. This article is drawn and edited from the “CEO Focus” email newsletter that the organization sent to members on Nov. 17.