No More Delays: Time is of the Essence for I-81

Posted on August 29, 2021

Complete Cg At Night

Community Grid offers the best solution to address long standing transportation and safety needs, while benefiting the region socially and economically

SYRACUSE, NY – Robert M. Simpson, president of CenterState CEO, in Syracuse, issued the following statement in response to calls for more time to study and comment on the future of Interstate 81, subsequent the New York State Department of Transportation release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the I-81 Viaduct Project.

“Since the New York State Department of Transportation’s (NYSDOT) release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on I-81, we have heard calls from special interests for even more time to review and revisit the recommended alternative. These represent nothing more than transparent attempts to further stall what has already been an over a decade long debate. Those calling for more time seek to dispute and discredit a laborious and meticulously thorough process by the NYSDOT and ignore the fact that the clear imprint of thousands of citizen and stakeholder comments can be seen within the current DEIS.

“This project has been discussed and vetted for the better part of the past 13 years. Countless studies and meetings have been dedicated to examining alternatives and developing the solution that best meets the community’s goals for the future. By our estimations, NYSDOT has participated in more than 430 meetings with community groups, organizations and other stakeholders, which includes at least 45 opportunities to engage with NYSDOT’s process through meetings open to the public, attended by more than 5,000 people.

“And let us not forget, among the last efforts to forestall the Community Grid was a ’tunnel study’ pushed by opponents of removing the viaduct that cost millions of dollars and several years of time only to reaffirm what NYSDOT had previously found – that a tunnel and/or depressed highway option were neither desirable nor practical.

“Most recently, there have been calls to consider an elevated skyway, which is nothing more than a new name for the elevated highway concept that has already been studied and dismissed through the course of the extensive I-81 process. It was rejected by the DOT because it would increase traffic and air pollution through the city, require eminent domain of more properties and create longer construction disruptions. A proposal that suggests using the name of Harriet Tubman, a revered historical figure who long fought the racist and oppressive conditions that would be reinforced by the skyway concept, is not how we as a community should seek to honor her legacy. Such a divisive skyway would only perpetuate deleterious impacts on the very communities of color who have lived in the shadow of I-81 for 60 years. Let’s honor the legacy of Harriet Tubman by creating solutions to address the racial and social inequities she fought.

“The highway is now four years beyond its useful life and no longer meets current federal highway standards for safety. At stake is injury and loss of life, increased costs and the possibility of missing a once-in-a generation infrastructure opportunity.

“Unfortunately, it has become clear that those calling for more time on an already years long process, or that are introducing even more unachievable alternatives at the eleventh hour, are less interested in maximizing regional benefit than they are in reaching a point where there is no option but to patch, repair and hopefully retain the viaduct. This status quo mentality represents a shortsighted vision that puts parochial self-interests over what is best for the community as a whole – investment and progress.

“How much longer should we have to live with unsafe conditions on the highway? Or to reconnect our downtown, University Hill and Southside? To return property to the tax rolls and land to productive use? To put people, including our region’s historically marginalized populations, to work? Or to circulate $2 billion in investment throughout our economy via local contractors and small businesses?

The answer is simple: not one more day.

“Not all our community’s social and economic challenges can or will be solved by the future of this 1.2 mile stretch of highway. And they cannot be solved with ‘more time.’ The NYSDOT has selected the best alternative to move this project forward. The Community Grid offers the best solution to address longstanding transportation and safety needs, while benefiting as many of the region’s residents and businesses as possible. We support the NYSDOT while they complete this legally mandated process, refine the plan one final time based on community input, and issue the FEIS and record of decision. After 13 years of debate, delay and continued disrepair, let us finally realize the many benefits that a Community Grid will bring.”

About CenterState CEO

CenterState CEO is an independent and forward thinking economic development strategist, business leadership organization and chamber of commerce; dedicated to the success of its members and the prosperity of the region. We serve as an advocate and resource for smart business, catalyze and facilitate regional growth, and promote community prosperity through results-driven partnerships, planning and problem-solving.

Image: The Community Grid along a reimagined and redesigned Almond Street in Syracuse. Credit: NYSDOT.

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