The state Department of Transportation will hold another meeting this week, discussing plans for the future of Interstate 81 in Syracuse. YNN's Bill Carey says there are new questions being raised by an engineering report released by a group that wants the highway left intact.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It is a project that has effectively split the region. City versus suburb. What to do about the aging Interstate 81? The elevated interstate is facing the end of its planned life span in 2017.
For years, city officials have complained that the highway split Syracuse in two, destroying neighborhoods in the old 15th Ward, forcing many into housing projects like Pioneer Homes. They've talked again and again of removing the highway, replacing it with a boulevard.
"You would have, along that boulevard, apartment houses. You would have commercial buildings. You would also have retail stores. It would free up a lot of property and not only that, but it would knit the city back together again," said Syracuse Common Council President Van Robinson.
Opponents of the boulevard plan, primarily from the suburbs, now say they have a new review by a national engineering firm, Maser Consulting, that finds the city argument is flawed.
The critics say in order to build a boulevard wide enough to handle the traffic, the city wouldn't gain property to develop. It would actually lose property. Among those properties to be disrupted would be the land currently housing Pioneer Homes.
"The idea of reconnecting the City of Syracuse, bringing the 15th Ward back together again, helping to create opportunities for commerce within the city, when we look at the current boulevard plan, that just does not happen with it," said Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon.
The city has claimed the removal of the highway would lower boundaries and encourage more people to travel from one section of Syracuse to another.
Robinson said, "There would be pedestrian crossings at intervals. There would also be bicycle paths, as well as pedestrian paths. In addition, the traffic would be slowed to the city limits, 30 to 35 miles per hour."
The new study claims that would mean massive congestion on city streets.
The pushback against the boulevard plan has been growing. But the city remains hopeful.
"You have not heard from the people of the City of Syracuse, yet," Robinson said.
McMahon said, "This is a regional decision. This isn't a decision that's going to be made from the confines of the City of Syracuse."
The state has no deadline, yet, for a final decision.
The state's so-called "scoping" meeting on the Interstate 81 project is set for Wednesday afternoon and evening at the Oncenter in Syracuse.