Common Councilors Have Mixed Feelings on Future of Interstate 81

Final decision expected by 2017

Syracuse University students learn firsthand from Syracuse’s Common Council © Carter Oakley 2012

By Carter Oakley SYRACUSE (NCC NEWS) – Plans for the future of I-81 are a hot topic of discussion among top city leaders. On Monday, City Clerk John Copanas went so far as to say “81 is coming down” as  lawmakers look for a way to bridge downtown Syracuse with Syracuse University and surrounding hospitals.

“It’s going to come down,” said Common Council President Van B. Robinson, calling current repairs to 81 a “Band-Aid on the wound.”

One option is to replace I-81 with a boulevard through Syracuse that will allocate resources between downtown and the hill by allowing safe and easy passage, according to Robinson.

Crossing under I-81 is currently dangerous, impractical and physically divides residents, according to Robinson.  Many Syracuse University students have only visited downtown when it was mandatory.

“I only went downtown during freshman orientation,” said sophomore Joseph Borda.  “Although it has a lot to offer and is quite close, I do not feel safe walking there.”

The goal in looking at the future of 81 is to safely connect the city’s vibrant downtown with the university, which will allow for increased interaction between the two isolated segments of the city.  Robinson hopes the unification will advance economic development.

The plan attempts to boost the economic environment of Syracuse by keeping residents in the city.  Thru traffic will be diverted to I-481, according to Councilor Jean Kessner.

“We have a passion for 81,” said City Clerk John Copanas.

But some Common Councilors, including Kathleen Joy and Pat Hogan, say the decision on the highway’s future can’t be made without extensive research and planning. Lawmakers will continue to debate the issue, with a final decision expected by 2017.

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