Could Light Rail or Rapid Bus Transit be in Syracuse's Future?

Feb 24, 2016

Syracuse-Area residents  are getting a first look at a study examining the possibility of bus rapid transit or light rail transit along two pre-determined corridors through the city.  Transportation officials say it’s an early step in a long process to improve public transit in areas that use it the most.

A map of Centro's routes in the city.
Credit smtcmpo.org

One corridor runs from Eastwood through downtown, down South Avenue, and out to Onondaga Community College.  The other begins at the regional transportation center and Destiny USA, cuts through downtown, and ends on university hill.  Both lines form an "X."  Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council Director James D'Agostino says those corridors cover a large chunk of the city and its population.  He says as the study continues, they’ll look into questions of feasibility.

"Do we believe it's feasible on one or both corridors; do we believe it's feasible to do bus rapid transit, light rail, streetcar, or all of the above; and a dollar cost associated with both the creation and maintenance of both of them."

D’Agostino says it’s easier to secure capital funding to build a system than it is to cover the costs of operating and maintaining it.  He says the two most common questions people have for the SMTC involve the future of I-81 and a better public transit system.  But how might the latter affect whatever form I-81 might take? 

"This project is independent of  whatever solution is put in place for I-81, and is designed to work with whatever 81 does; if you put a tunnel in, if you rebuild it, if you put a boulevard solution in, whatever is done with 81, this will work with it.  The idea is to not create something that forces the hand on 81."

  I-81 aside, D'Agostino says there’s more to consider as they explore mass transit options.   He can think of a logical question the public might have when it comes to Centro’s fairly persistent financial struggles.

"If I was the public, and I asked...if you can't meet your current operating obligations, why are you looking to expand.  The answer is we don't know yet, because sometimes there can be cost savings."

For example, he says if enough people use the new service, and if other routes are cut.  But that discussion is still a long way off.  For now, SMTC Program Manager Mario Colone says they have plenty to keep them busy after they distill and summarize the feedback from the open house.

A view of I-81 northbound at the I-690 interchange.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

"The next step is to get further into the refined details, looking at ridership along the two corridors, and furthering environmental and socioeconomic analysis."

SMTC staff also plan to be on hand at community and neighborhood group meetings along the proposed corridors,  as well as Destiny USA and OCC.  

An open house will be held Wednesday night, Feb. 24 from 4:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the SKY Armory at 351 South Clinton street.  Presentations are at 5:00 and 6:30 p.m.   The information will be posted on the SMTC's website Wednesday evening.