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State to schedule public meeting on community grid as “preferred” option for future of I-81 in Syracuse

By Eric Reinhardt

Date:

An aerial view of an elevated area of Interstate 81 (I-81) in Syracuse. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) on Monday released a report recommending the community grid alternative as the “preferred” option for the future of I-81. The NYSDOT will schedule a public-information meeting “in the near future.” (Eric Reinhardt / BJNN file photo)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The state will schedule a public-information meeting “in the near future” on the report that recommends the community grid alternative as the best option for the future of Interstate 81 through downtown Syracuse.

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) will also take public comments into consideration as the department advances the project, per a Monday news release.

The recommendation has generated plenty of reaction, including support from CenterState CEO, the region’s primary economic-development organization, and opposition from hotel operators in the town of Salina. The views, both for and against, are part of a debate that has continued for the last several years.

The (NYSDOT) on Monday released a preliminary draft design report/environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the I-81 viaduct project. It is subject to public and Federal Highway Administration review and comment prior to a final decision.

“The Interstate 81 viaduct project provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance safety and mobility through the city of Syracuse, reconnecting neighborhoods, enhancing livability and supporting the economic vitality of the region,” David Smith, NYSDOT region 3 director, said in a news release.  “After extensive public outreach and careful consideration, we believe that the Community Grid best meets the project’s objectives.”

If interested, the NYSDOT says you can download the preliminary DEIS from the project website: https://www.dot.ny.gov/i81opportunities.

 

CenterState CEO support

CenterState CEO is “incredibly pleased” that the NYSDOT has released the formal DEIS and selected the Community Grid as the preferred alternative, Robert Simpson, president and CEO of CenterState CEO, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“For the first time since 2008, we do not have to speculate on the future of Interstate 81 in our City and region. Instead, we can turn our full attention to outlining strategies that will maximize the economic potential of this once-in-a-generation, billion plus dollar investment. As we have stated before, we believe that the Community Grid represents the best foundation on which to build our future. It represents an opportunity to jointly develop and implement a new model for civic collaboration, citizen engagement and re-development that places the needs of our institutions, our businesses, our developers, elected leaders and residents at a shared table with a shared goal of shared prosperity,” Simpson said.

However, Simpson added that CenterState CEO acknowledges that some stakeholders are “negatively” impacted by the decision, so the organization is also “committing” to Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, New York Senators Kirstin Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) and Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.), U.S. Representative John Katko (R–Camillus), and the entire state delegation that “CenterState CEO will be a partner in designing, innovating and advocating for meaningful mitigation measures that our region deserves so that the legacy of this project can be one that our region can look back on with pride.”

CenterState CEO had called for a “Community Grid Plus” approach that builds on the foundation of the NYSDOT’s proposed Community Grid alternative with 10 points of enhancement, per a document that CenterState CEO released Feb.22.

 

Hotel operators opposed

Viraj Patel, operator of Country Inn & Suites in the town of Salina, is among those concerned about the impact the community grid option would have on Syracuse’s suburbs.

Patel was also among representatives of 11 hotels located along I-81 who sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo expressing their concerns about what a grid-only solution would mean for the economic stability of the town of Salina. Patel noted the group and the Cuomo letter in a “Letter to [the] Editor” forwarded to BJNN before the state released its DEIS on Monday.

The hotels located off Exit 25 on I-81 held an April 3 news conference to share their concerns. Those signing the letter to Cuomo include Country Inn and Suites, Comfort Inn and Suites, Holiday Inn, Super 8 Motel, Staybridge, Maplewood Extended Stay, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Best Western Inn and Suites, Hampton Inn and Suites, Tru by Hilton, and Knights Inn.

In a statement released Monday after the state issued the DEIS, Patel said, “I’ve only had an opportunity to glance at the report and will be reviewing it more thoroughly over the next few days and weeks with the other 10 hotel owners/operators on our exit.”

As his statement continued, Patel said, “The report seems to rule out the tunnel alternative because of the excessive cost. Since that is no longer an option we should choose the option that provides the greatest economic and practical benefit. One option would be to repair and maintain the existing I-81 which would save almost a billion dollars. The other option would be to have the elevated viaduct. Although it costs $300 million more than the community grid alternative, the community grid would cost more than $300 million in negative economic impact to businesses, employees, schools, and communities located between Syracuse and North Syracuse. The report also mentions that during rush hour (which only accounts for 33 percent of the total daily traffic on I-81) 40 percent of the travelers are traveling to/from downtown. Even at its busiest, more travelers are heading to other locations that the community grid would not adequately serve. The city of Syracuse has 150,000 residents while Onondaga County has more than 460,000. We should choose the option that meets the needs of the majority of the greater Syracuse community. The community grid is not that option.”

Contact Reinhardt at ereinhardt@cnybj.com

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