A pair of Syracuse-area state lawmakers presented a report Friday that they say shows a community grid can’t be a stand-alone replacement for I-81 through the city. The report by a former Chief Engineer of New York State Department of Transportation found the need to maintain traffic flow in and out of Syracuse. State Senator John DeFrancisco and Assemblymember Bill Magnarelli say a hybrid solution might be best.
"Nobody is saying that the grid is bad. We're OK with the grid. We want the grid," Magnarelli said. "But we'd like to have a tunnel or something that would get 81 through the city as well. Why is it that we can't have both? That's the question."
Magnarelli says removing that direct route will cumulatively add hours of travel time for commuters. But the validity of the study was called into question by a number of concerned citizens. Evan Weissman is a staunch supporter of the community grid option who criticized the credentials of the engineer who conducted it.
"It was written by a highway engineer whose expertise is in highway construction, not in urban planning, not in economic development, not in social vitality."
Weissman and other citizens in attendance also expressed concern about the brief duration of the study and its lack of information fairly weighing the needs of people living in the city versus those in the suburbs. One concerned attendee feared that new construction on such a large scale would further segregate the city.
"We're the fourth most segregated county in the country. We have the highest concentration of poverty among African Americans and Latinos in the country. That highway, that viaduct...all the research...academic, scientific, engineering, architectural, tells us that's what happens when you build cities."
The planning for the I-81 project is still ongoing as the Department of Transportation continues to weigh various studies and public comments.