The future of I-81

by bethanybump

I-81 construction

Years before President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System spread across American cities and eventually through Syracuse, the city’s 15th Ward was a vibrant, diverse community. Within it were high- and low-income residents, white and black neighbors and the city’s first black dentist.

But in the 1950s and ’60s, the largely African-American community was razed to make way for an elevated interstate highway that would displace nearly 1,300 residents to the South Side. Whites took to the suburbs, leaving abandoned buildings in their wake.

“No one asked the community what it wanted when I-81 was built 50 years ago,” said James D’Agostino, director of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, the organization responsible for Onondaga County’s transportation planning.

Walking underneath the I-81 viaduct

Today, portions of Interstate-81, the expressway that cuts through Syracuse, are nearing the end of their lifespan. The visibly decaying viaduct, the 1.4-mile elevated strip, prompted the transportation council and the New York State Department of Transportation to launch The I-81 Challenge, a public outreach campaign to address the future of I-81 in the next decade.

Images via The I-81 Challenge blog.

Harrison and Adams street ramps

“We’re in some ways tripping over ourselves to involve the public and make sure people know about this project so that no one feels that this is being done in a back room behind a closed door,” D’Agostino said.

The I-81 Challenge has a websiteblog and Facebook page with case studies, newsletters, fact sheets, maps and a questionnaire available. The state agencies will hold the first round of public workshops in early May to inform the community of all the options, he said.

Read more in The Stand.

Images via The I-81 Challenge blog.