After 10 years of community meetings, studies, and fierce debate, the New York State DOT has chosen the “community grid” as the preferred alternative for I-81 through Syracuse. The elevated viaduct had reached the end of its useful life and did not meet modern standards for an interstate. Instead of an elevated viaduct, the corridor will become an urban boulevard connected to local streets. Syracuse is not the first city to see an elevated freeway come down, and it likely will not be the last, including in the state. New York will soon have to make a decision on what to do about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
In 2013, FHWA funded a revitalization study that outlined ways to remove parts of Interstate 10 in New Orleans and restore historic Claiborne Avenue below. High costs have stalled those efforts but, in the meantime, the city has opted to reclaim space beneath the expressway in an attempt to reactivate nearby neighborhoods affected by the structure.
Interstate 81, known locally as “the viaduct”, slices through the middle of Syracuse in upstate New York. The aging, elevated freeway effectively forms a barrier between the city and the Syracuse University neighborhood known as the Hill. A coalition of local businesses, education, and political leaders have come together to solicit input on whether to rebuild, replace, or remove the freeway. The process could serve as a model for other communities wrestling with a similar decision.