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Over $180M in federal money slated for neighborhoods near I-81 viaduct

By Eric Reinhardt (ereinhardt@cnybj.com)

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The federal government has awarded the New York State Department of Transportation and the City of Syracuse more than $180 million in funding for work on neighborhoods impacted by the Interstate 81 (I-81) viaduct-replacement project. The work will focus on streets, parks, greenery, and other community infrastructure after the elevated portion of I-81 comes down later in the decade, the office of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) announced March 11. PHOTO CREDIT: ZOEYADVERTISING.COM

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — More than $180 million in federal funding will target work in the neighborhoods surrounding the elevated portion of Interstate 81 (I-81).

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded the I-81 viaduct-replacement project the funding, which targets neighborhoods like the new 15th ward and Syracuse’s north side. 

After the I-81 viaduct comes down, these parts of the city will have “modern safe complete streets, new and improved parks, greenery, and community infrastructure to have a brighter, more interconnected and dynamic future for the next generation of Syracuse residents,”  the office of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) contends.

The funding comes from USDOT’s Neighborhood Access and Equity program, both Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) announced on March 11.

Schumer created the program in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), based on the work he and Gillibrand did creating the Reconnecting Communities program in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Law, his office noted.

The award makes the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and City of Syracuse project — dubbed I-81 Connecting Syracuse — “among the first in the nation” to tap the program. 

“This [more than] $180 million is about laying the foundation for the next generation in Syracuse. It will create new modern tree-lined streets, add new parks for our families, bike paths, and new opportunity,” Schumer said in the news release. “When I negotiated the Inflation Reduction Act, I knew we needed to increase funding to the critical reconnecting communities’ initiatives, so places like Syracuse could access the robust funding needed to turn the dreams of I-81’s transformation into a reality. Today’s major award will help make Syracuse a national model for the future of reconnecting communities across America.”

This $180 million in federal money will provide about $150 million to NYSDOT and $30 million to the City of Syracuse to pay for elements of the community grid, specifically to “help connect and enhance quality of life for disadvantaged communities in Syracuse to ensure this once-in-a-generation project will help transform and reconnect the communities divided by I-81,” Schumer’s office said.

More specifically, NYSDOT and the City of Syracuse will use this funding to “transform and modernize” transportation infrastructure, enhance parks and greenspaces, and create new community destinations in the neighborhoods closest to and most severely impacted by the I-81 viaduct, it added.

The award will help pay for reconstruction of existing streets like those in the new 15th ward and “other disadvantaged neighborhoods” using complete street designs. They will include “modern features that prioritize safety, comfort, and connectivity” like new lighting, greenery, sidewalks, bike paths, enhanced pedestrian-safety features, and improved storm sewer, and other utilities, per Schumer’s office.

New pedestrian and bicycle paths will allow walkers and bikers to safely move along roads and bridges connecting the northside to Syracuse’s inner harbor.

The funding will also help pay for the effort to enhance the existing parks and greenspaces such as Wilson Park, where the work will include reseeding existing playing fields and adding new basketball courts, a splash pad, bleachers, benches, shade trees, and drinking fountains.    

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