Last Thursday, a Syracuse group, Save 81, finally released a 12,000 page document that was completed by the New York State Department of Transportation in 2016. For many years, this group kept using this document to lobby against replacing I-81. Ironically, this document mentions that the idea of Save 81 is incorrect. As a result, opponents of Save 81 blame the group for picking beneficial information from the document instead of fully releasing it.
In 1957, a 1.4-mile-long highway named Interstate 81 was built in the city of Syracuse. As time went by, I-81 became too old to adopt changes and meet the basic needs of modern urban lives. Due to this situation, people have had intensive discussions about how to redesign this important corridor.
The first solution is to rehabilitate the aging I-81, which is what the group Save 81 supports. The second solution is to dismantle I-81 and design a community grid in Syracuse, which can slow down the traffic and help Syracuse become a city that is more walkable. The third solution is to construct an underground tunnel to replace I-81.
Gao Peng is a geography professor at Syracuse University, focusing on human-environmental relations and demographic change. He believes the final decision will still be maintaining I-81, even though the release of the document brings some bad influence to Save 81. The reason is that supporters of Save 81 are mainly business owners who have more power to make decisions. There are many big companies near to I-81 such as Destiny USA and Walmart. Generally, I-81 carries over 100,000 vehicles per day, which can bring a large number of visitors to these companies. Therefore, they are afraid of losing business if I-81 is dismantled.
“I feel like in the end, the government will choose the proposal that maintains 81 because there is a big company behind this proposal,” Gao said. “They are lobbying this proposal.”
However, I-81 also brings much unevenness to Syracuse. Opponents of Save 81 imply I-81 as a “Berlin Wall” or “Chinese Wall” in Syracuse. In other words, I-81 isolates some places and makes these places become poor. Hence, most people who support to dismantle I-81 are grass-roots.
The document is a 2016 draft environmental impact statement, which can be downloaded at the official website of Save 81. Save 81 sought this document through the Freedom of Information Law. The government will soon release the final version.