SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) — The I-81 Community Grid Plan, which has long cast a mysterious shadow over the future of transportation through Central New York, cleared its largest legislative hurdle yet on Tuesday.
The New York State Department of Transportation teased a “major announcement” regarding the future of I-81 over Memorial Day Weekend, and under the viaduct on Erie Blvd Tuesday afternoon, officials announced a major step forward. Construction, they said, is coming this fall.
“Today, the New York State Department of Transportation and the U.S. Federal Highway Administration have signed a formal record of decision for the I-81 viaduct project,” said NYSDOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez.
The $2.25 billion budget set aside for the project will be the largest DOT expenditure on an upstate project in history, officials said in the press conference.
The signing of the document with the federal government also effectively marks the end of debate surrounding the community grid plan. A major proposed alternative was to construct a new, elevated viaduct to replace the rusting stretch of 81 that currently bisects the entire city of Syracuse.
“In the end, this is the best solution for Central New York,” project manager Mark Frechette said. “Not everybody agrees with that, but when you start looking at the impacts associated with replacing the viaduct, it would be far more severe in downtown and to the city.”
In addition to announcing the agreement, the DOT provided updates on the contracting portion of the project, which will be broken into five separate deals for Phase One. This stage of the project will involved building a significant portion of the grid itself, including several bridges that run perpendicular to the current viaduct, while preparing to bring down the steel behemoth itself.
“We want to commence construction activity,” Frechette said. “Contract one will have a contractor, shovel in the ground, as the commissioner mentioned, later this fall. Phase One will start later this fall. All five of these contracts will be wrapping up close to the end of 2025.
Frechette also noted that these contracts would be rolled out individually, so as to maximize opportunities for local bidders to remain competitive.
It is not yet known when construction will officially begin, as three bids are still under consideration for Phase One. Following today’s announcement, “this fall” will remain a promise until shovels officially break ground.