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Onondaga Citizens League releases ‘Rethinking I-81’ study report recommending rerouting of through traffic, at-grade urban boulevard to replace portion of raised highway
Onondaga Citizens League releases ‘Rethinking I-81’ study report recommending rerouting of through traffic, at-grade urban boulevard to replace portion of raised highwayJune 25, 2009Eileen Jevisejevis@uc.syr.edu
The Onondaga Citizens League (OCL) today released the results of its latest study and recommendations for the future of Interstate 81 in Syracuse. The elevated portions of I-81 as it passes through Syracuse are nearing the end of their useful life. OCL recommends a solution that reroutes through traffic around the city and replaces a section of I-81 with an at-grade urban boulevard for local traffic. The study found that this concept would benefit the entire region by stimulating economic development and job growth, relieving traffic congestion and creating a healthier environment.
The New York State Department of Transportation has begun detailed studies of the interstate’s bridges, which must be replaced-not just repaired-in the near future. The study report concludes that since the elevated bridges must come down anyway, it makes sense to reroute through traffic to I-481 and replace the bridges with an attractive, pedestrian-friendly boulevard in the Almond Street corridor between East Adams Street and Erie Boulevard.
The OCL report finds that I-81 is a visual and physical barrier between downtown and the University Hill area and serves as an obstacle to the growing educational and medical institutions. “The ‘eds and meds’ of University Hill are Central New York’s leading economic engines,” says Doug Sutherland, a member of OCL’s Board of Directors and study committee. “If we capitalize on this opportunity to make the Almond Boulevard corridor attractive to new development that captures the energy of University Hill, we improve the prospects for the CNY region in the years ahead.”
According to Rebecca Livengood, chair of the study committee, even if I-81 were rebuilt as an elevated highway through the city, it would have to be redesigned. “I-81 downtown doesn’t meet current highway design standards,” Livengood says. “The lanes are too narrow, exit ramps are too short, and there are no shoulders or emergency lanes, among other problems. There just isn’t room to recreate I-81, with the current entrance and exit configuration, in the Almond Street corridor.”
OCL studied other cities where elevated highways were replaced by surface roads. In those cities, including Milwaukee and San Francisco, areas around the teardowns experienced increased property values and new economic growth. Anticipated traffic congestion did not materialize, and improvements to the street grid allowed traffic to flow more logically. The OCL report concludes that diverting I-81 through traffic from the downtown area, where the I-81 speed limit is 45 miles per hour, to I-481, would benefit both long-distance travelers and local commuters.
“The I-81 challenge is more than a question of moving cars, it is an opportunity for us to create a strategy to benefit our region’s core,” says OCL Executive Vice President Sandra Barrett. “We believe that a revitalized Almond Street corridor, with new development connecting it to downtown, would increase the attractiveness of the region as a place to work, live and visit.”
To view the full report, go to http://onondagacitizensleague.org. For more information, contact Barrett at (315) 443-5404.
The Onondaga Citizens League, administered and supported by University College of Syracuse University, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization designed to promote citizen education and involvement in public affairs. OCL was created in 1978 by a group of concerned citizens to study problems and propose solutions to issues facing Central New York. The league does not promote specific legislation nor function as a lobbying group.