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Interstate 81 in Syracuse: What Are the Options?

This information is from a summary produced by agencies studying how to proceed with the Interstate 81 Project, included are links to various reports issued by agencies whose responsibility it is to implement the many steps that must be followed prior to undertaking a project of this size and scope. Contrary to the original plan that placed Interstate 81 through the heart of Syracuse, the 2014 process included robust community-wide discussions of the project and the many visions presented for review. The following provides a summary. You are encouraged to “click” on the links below and see for yourself what’s being planned for the future of the aging viaduct. Please note: Animations take additional time to load–editors note

The 1944 passage of the Federal Highway Act began an era of road building in the United States. New York State’s highway engineers began to develop a master plan for New York State. The 1947 Urban Area Report for the Syracuse region depicted the concept for the first north-south highway through the Syracuse region, the Townsend Street arterial. The arterial was eventually incorporated into the 1955 federal publication known as the Yellow Book, which mapped out what would become the Interstate Highway System.

In 1958, a decision was made to locate a proposed interstate highway on an elevated structure along Almond Street, coinciding with the location of the Near East Side Urban Renewal Area. Interstate 81 was constructed in three stages, opening between 1959 and 1969. The construction of the final section, the 1.4-mile elevated highway, or viaduct, was delayed due to issues with property acquisition and relocation of residents.

Today I-81 is one of the most traveled roadways in the City of Syracuse and the Greater Syracuse region, carrying approximately 100,000 vehicles per day. Fifty-plus years of use and exposure to the extreme weather conditions in Syracuse have taken a toll on portions of the highway, especially the viaduct. That is why NYSDOT and FHWA have initiated a highway improvement project.

Evolution of the I-81 Viaduct Project

In 2008, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) initiated the I-81 Corridor Study to review the highway’s existing conditions and issues as they conduct planning-level analysis of potential options for the future of the 12-mile corridor. The Corridor Study Report and other documents related to this study and its extensive public participation program, led by NYSDOT and the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC), are found in the study’s website. The I-81 Challenge study concluded earlier this year, and will help inform the NYSDOT and Federal Highway Administration as they begin the environmental review process to determine the best way to improve I-81 in Syracuse.

The viaduct alternatives would demolish the existing I-81 viaduct and rebuild it along the same footprint. The new viaduct would be built to meet today’s design standards, which include provision of ten-foot-wide right shoulders and four-foot-wide left shoulders. The speed limit on the new viaduct would be 55 MPH. Aesthetic and urban design treatments to the new viaduct and to Almond Street, which would be reconstructed, would be explored, along with bicycle and pedestrian amenities on Almond Street. Like the Street-level Alternatives, the new viaduct alternatives would provide new interstate-to-interstate connections between I-81 and I-690

V-2: New Viaduct Fully Improved to Current Standards (click for better view)

V-2: New Viaduct Fully Improved to Current Standards [br]
V-2 would provide a new viaduct that fully meets all of today’s design standards. The cost of V-2 is estimated at $1.438 B.[br]
Recommendation: PASS

Because this alternative would improve structural and geometric design features; allow for enhanced vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian connectivity on surface streets adjacent and under the viaduct; be able to be constructed with reasonable and typical engineering practices; and would have a reasonable cost, it is recommended to be carried forward for further study.

V-3: New Viaduct with Substantial Design Improvements
Alternative V-3 is very similar to V-2, but the new viaduct’s curvature would be tightened at seven locations, enabling about 25 percent fewer building acquisitions than would be necessary under Alternative V-2.
The cost of V-3 is estimated at $1.423 B.
Recommendation: PASS

V-4: New Viaduct with Considerable Design Improvements
Like Alternative V-3, V-4 would tighten the curvature of the viaduct at seven spots; at five of these spots, the curves would be tighter under V-4 than they would be under V-3. With this tighter footprint, Alternative V-4 would necessitate about 40 percent fewer building acquisitions than would Alternative V-2. The cost of V-4 is estimated at $1.419 B. An animation of this alternative has been prepared.
Recommendation: PASS

Street-level Alternatives

STREET-LEVEL ALTERNATIVES-SL-1: Boulevard -(click for better view)

All Street-level Alternatives would demolish the existing I-81 viaduct, which would be decommissioned as an interstate, and make improvements to I-481, which would be re-designated as I-81. Almond Street would be reconstructed as a surface street, with potential for urban design/aesthetic treatments and bicycle/pedestrian amenities. The Street-level Alternatives would fully meet today’s design standards. Like the new viaduct alternatives, the street-level solutions would reconstruct the I-81/I-690 interchange, providing connections in all directions.

Initial traffic studies indicate that six lanes of traffic are likely to be needed to maintain an efficient flow of traffic between Downtown, University Hill, the Southside, and other neighborhoods. There are many ways to lay out a new boulevard along Almond Street, which in some areas is nearly 200 feet wide; this animation shows one of numerous concepts. The width on Almond Street is sufficient to accommodate vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, wide park-like medians, and other improvements. The Boulevard would cost approximately $1.047 B.
Recommendation: PASS

SL-2: One-Way Almond Street and Other Local Street(s)
Under this alternative, Almond Street would carry one-way, northbound traffic from Harrison Street to the connection with I-690. South of Harrison Street, Almond Street would be a two-way street. Other street(s)–for example, Townsend Street or Clinton Street–would be used by southbound traffic. One concept of this alternative is shown in this animation. Because traffic would be routed to other local streets, Almond Street could have fewer than six travel lanes, which would shorten crosswalks.
SL-2 would cost approximately $1.067 B.
Recommendation: PASS

SL-3: Two-Way Almond Street and Other Local Street(s)
Alternative SL-3 is similar to SL-2 in that it would route traffic to Almond and other local street(s). However, under SL-3 these streets would carry two-way traffic. SL-3 would cost approximately $1.067 B.
Recommendation: PASS

The Viaduct and Street-level Alternatives would incorporate several other potential highway, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements. These common features are described below.

Improving the I-81/I-690 Interchange (Click for better view)

All alternatives would include full reconstruction of the I-81/I-690 interchange, with modifications to increase capacity, improve highway safety, and improve vehicle maneuvers onto and off the highways.

Reconstruction also would include the addition of two connections that are missing in the existing interchange: a ramp between southbound I-81 and westbound I-690, and a ramp between eastbound I-690 and northbound I-81.

Improving Access along I-690
Additional modifications to the existing I-690 interchanges at West Street and Teall Avenue are also being considered.

The West Street interchange (Exit 11) would be reconfigured to allow for the new ramps between I-81 and I-690. Either the existing, elevated ramps over the highway would be improved, or the ramps would be replaced with a signalized, street-level intersection.

The Teall Avenue (Exit 14)/I-81 interchange would be modified to simplify traffic movements and decrease congestion, thereby improving access to University Hill. NYSDOT is studying various routes to determine how to best improve connections from Teall Avenue to University Hill. These improvements would decrease commute times and help reduce traffic volumes at the I-81/I-690 interchange and at interchange 18 (Harrison Street/Adams Street) on I-81.

Improving Access along I-81
Additional interchange improvements along I-81 are under consideration to improve northern and southern access to the highway. South of Downtown, new ramps are being considered at MLK East or Burt Street to reduce congestion at the Adams Street/Almond Street intersection and provide a potential alternate route to the Carrier Dome. North of Downtown, ramp improvements are being considered at the Route 370 (Park Street) and Route 298 (Court Street) interchanges to improve safety and traffic flow.

Enhancements for Pedestrians and Bicycles
Enhancements for Pedestrians and Bicycles (Click for better view)







Enhancements for Pedestrians and Bicycles
Under all alternatives, safety and connectivity would be improved on Almond Street, not only for motorists but also for pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrian walkways and bike lanes would be clearly defined with pavement markings, color, or aesthetic treatments to promote driver awareness of pedestrians and bicycles. Bollards, medians, and extensions of the sidewalk at street corners would enhance safety at crossing locations.

Project Alternatives
Considered During Scoping

No Build Alternative – PASS

Viaduct Alternatives

V-1: Rehabilitation –FAIL

V-2: New Viaduct Fully Improved to Current Standards –PASS

V-3: New Viaduct with Substantial Design Improvements –PASS

V-4: New Viaduct with Considerable Design Improvements –PASS

V-5: New Stacked Viaduct –FAIL

Street-level Alternatives

SL-1: Boulevard –PASS

SL-2: One-way Traffic on Almond Street and Other Local Street(s) –PASS

SL-3: Two-way Traffic on Almond Street and Other Local Street(s) –PASS

Tunnel Alternatives

T-1: Almond Street Tunnel (MLK East to Butternut Street) –FAIL

T-2: Almond Street Tunnel (MLK East to Genesee Street) –FAIL

T-3: Townsend Street Tunnel –FAIL

T-4: Tunnel on Eastern Alignment (81’ Below Syracuse) –FAIL

Depressed Highway Alternatives

DH-1: Depressed Highway (Adams Street to Butternut Street) –FAIL

DH-2: Depressed Highway (Adams Street to Genesee Street) –FAIL

Other Alternatives

O-1: Western Bypass –FAIL

O-2: West Street/Salt City Circuit –FAIL

The alternatives marked “PASS” in green are recommended for further study. The alternatives marked “FAIL” in red are not recommended for further study due to one or more of the following: high cost, long construction time, loss of cross street connections and substantial property acquisitions.


The Right To Read : Documentary Screening and Discussion

Community Folk Art Center 805 E. Genesee St., Syracuse, NY, United States

Join The NAACP Syracuse Onondaga County Branch and Community Folk Art Center for a special screening and panel discussion of The Right To Read. This viewing will occur on Thursday, […]

Free and open to the community

A Celebration of Black Icons in Dance

Community Folk Art Center 805 E. Genesee St., Syracuse, NY, United States

Join Classical Dance Trailblazer, Charles Haislah, The Creative Arts Academy, and CFAC-DanceLab for an evening of captivating performances and dance history. This event is free and open to the community!

Free and open to the community

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