Is Cuomo Ready to Rid Downtown Syracuse of I-81?

Governor Cuomo seems eager to teardown Syracuse's crumbling I-81. Photo: Onondaga Citizens League
Governor Cuomo seems ready to tear down Syracuse’s crumbling I-81. Photo: Onondaga Citizens League

Speaking in Syracuse yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared to indicate support for the removal of 3.75 miles of Interstate 81, the aging elevated highway that cuts through the heart of downtown.

“That could be a transformative project that really jump-starts the entire region,” Cuomo said, according to the Post-Standard. “I-81 did a lot of damage — a classic planning blunder. Let’s build a road and bisect an entire community. That’s an idea, yeah, let me write it down.”

With the elevated portion of I-81 fast approaching the end of its useful life and in need of near-constant repairs, state officials have narrowed its future to two options: tear it down and replace it with a surface-level boulevard, or rebuild it — which would most likely require widening the highway. A third option, an underground tunnel, is viewed as costly and infeasible.

The state DOT is in the midst of cost and environmental analyses of the remaining options, and is expected to issue a draft environmental impact statement by the end of the year. Cuomo did not explicitly say he supported a surface-level boulevard, but with the tunnel all but ruled out, if he wants to get rid of the highway it’s the only option left.

Cuomo also indicated a readiness to get things moving. “We procrastinate,” he said. “We wait for everyone to agree. You know when that day is going to come? Never. Never. If you wait for the perfect, you’re never going to get there. You will do nothing. And that’s just what we’ve done on I-81. We’ve done nothing. Find the best solution with the most agreement and move forward.”

Cuomo has been on somewhat of a highway removal kick of late. Earlier this year, the state budget included $97 million to transform the Bronx’s Moses-era Sheridan Expressway into a surface boulevard. And in April, the governor has lent his support to the proposed teardown of Buffalo’s Kensington Expressway.

The governor’s office has not responded to a Streetsblog inquiry asking whether his comments mean the state will go forward with the I-81 teardown.

  • Funktapus

    Mister Cuomo, tear down this wall!

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    Wasn’t the train station moved way out of downtown too at some point? Time to fix that mistake too.

  • Vooch

    all urban Superhighways should Be Removed p

  • AMH

    “We procrastinate, we wait for everyone to agree. You know when that day is going to come? Never. Never. If you wait for the perfect, you’re never going to get there. You will do nothing. … Find the best solution with the most agreement and move forward.”

    At last, something I can get behind. Someone please spread this around.

  • Jules1

    Very interesting! Would this be the first mainline interstate to ever be removed?

    Would I-481 become the new I-81?

  • walks bikes drives

    I just drove over that overpass on Wednesday. It is in poor shape and has so many twists and turns I can only imagine the issues from a safety standpoint. I would imagine, as Jules said below, that I-481 would be renamed as I-81 and the trucks and through traffic would use that route. Time wise, it doesn’t seem to add much to a trip, 4 minutes according to Google.

  • neroden

    I certainly hope this gets torn down ASAP. (I live in Ithaca.)

    Cuomo hasn’t been at all reliable on stuff like this in the past, so this is very heartening news.

  • neroden

    …that’s a bit harder. When they originally closed the downtown train station in the 1950s, they ripped out the tracks and put I-690 on top of them, so you’d have to remove I-690 to move the train station back downtown. Quite a problem.

    In the 1950s, they also moved the train station to the middle of nowhere — but it was moved again in the late 1980s, to a better location. The train station is now next to Carousel Mall, which would be OK if they fixed the sidewalks so you could walk between them.

  • neroden

    Everyone assumes I-481 would become the new 81.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They’d have to redo the two interchanges, and certainly should, to make I-81 continuous.

    As for the train, I think there is room to put one track back into Downtown, based on Google Maps. They might have to relocate a couple of businesses, but the I-87 interchange would be gone.

  • Jules1

    That would be great!

  • LimestoneKid

    When they razed the old baseball stadium, MacArthur Stadium, they should have moved that closer to downtown. It’s current location is absolutely brutal.

  • LimestoneKid

    Saying that the “train station is now next to Carousel Mall” is being very kind.

  • Elizabeth F

    A real armpit. Tear it down!

  • bolwerk

    Had OnTrack been developed properly, it the Walsh Transportation Center may’ve ended up tolerably useful.

    Maybe it can be redeveloped into a light rail service eventually.

  • newkai

    The move to its present location wasn’t until 1997 🙂 As you mentioned, for decades before that it was in the middle of nowhere around where the train yard is in East Syracuse.

  • inky799

    Such an expert teachers, bike lanes, trains buses and now i 81 I’m so impressed that such a loser thinks he knows it all. Its almost funny.

  • Nancyjkuiper3

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