The New York Dept. of Transportation has released this month an updated draft design report and draft environmental impact statement on a Syracuse highway project that aims to fix half-century-old environmental injustices against the city's Black community.
Residents hope the new draft document incorporates certain changes from the prior 2016 study to ensure the well being of people living near the massive project to turn a crumbling viaduct into a "community grid" that connects the neighborhood to better health care and economic opportunities.
I-81, completed in 1968, was part of the the Federal Highway Act massive infrastructure initiative, begun in the 1950s, to unify the country via national freeways. But a lesser goal was to eradicate so-called slums and ghettos. Such projects were "routed to do lasting damage to black communities," U.S. Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg said at a June press conference in Syracuse.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has been working with residents near I-81, helping them tell local, state and national authorities the specific ways that the replacement can reverse the damage.
“Every detail of reconstruction must work in concert to rebuild the community that this highway destroyed," Lanessa Owens Chaplin, an assistant director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in July 19 statement to ENR in response to the new documents.
"Our community members must be protected from the onslaught of noise during construction, our schoolchildren must not be a stone’s throw from the pollution of a highway ramp, and residents must have a say in how the new public space is returned and used in their community," she said.
The community grid option would demolish the existing viaduct between a bridge near Renwick Ave. and the I-81/I-690 interchange. New roadways would disperse traffic through the city grid, include new pedestrian and bicycle amenities, and create a new business loop dubbed "BL 81.”
Residents have until close of business Sept. 14 to weigh in on the project and ask for further changes. They can comment via an electronic form that found here; by leaving a voicemail on project hotline 1-855-481-8255; or by attending virtual or in-person public hearings in August.
To attend the virtual hearings on Aug. 17, register on this site. The in-person hearings will be held 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Aug. 18 at 800 South State St., Syracuse, N.Y..