Controversy continues to swirl around the $2.25-billion Interstate 81 Viaduct Project in Syracuse, N.Y., which state and federal officials have touted as a way to reconnect communities once severed by Interstate construction. State officials recently announced the award of a second contract for the project, but over half of the plan remains temporarily barred from moving forward by a state judge.

Following a ceremonial groundbreaking July 21, state officials announced the award of the $384.5-million second design-build contract to CNY Alliance, a team including a joint venture of A. Servidone Inc. and B. Anthony Construction Corp. plus Rifenburg Construction Corp. and Crane-Hogan Structural Systems Inc. They beat out two other shortlisted teams for the job, state records show. 

“The Interstate 81 Viaduct Project will serve as a national example of how thoughtful infrastructure can bring people together, promote growth, and increase prosperity for all communities,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said at the groundbreaking. 

The plan calls for I-81 to be rerouted from a viaduct through Syracuse to the existing path of I-481, which loops around the city. The state-favored design, known as the “community grid” plan, would involve demolishing the 1.4-mile viaduct and replacing it with an at-grade road that would be designated Business Loop 81. 

The newly awarded contract’s scope covers reconstruction of the current southern interchange of I-81 and I-481, reconstruction of another I-481 interchange with State Routes 5 and 92 and improvements along other stretches of the interstate highway loop. Earlier this year, state officials awarded a $296.4-million contract to Salt City Constructors LLC, a team of Lancaster Development and Tully Construction Co. LLC, D.A. Collins Construction Co. Inc. and Cold Spring Construction Co. Inc., for the first phase of work including the northern interchange reconstruction. Work on both contracts is scheduled to complete in late 2025, according to state Dept. of Transportation records. 

However, only work on the first three of eight planned contracts may currently proceed. Earlier this year, Onondaga County Supreme Court Judge Gerard Neri ordered the state to produce a supplemental environmental impact statement addressing issues raised by community advocates who oppose the community grid design. A group called Renew 81 For All filed a lawsuit last year against the New York State Dept. of Transportation seeking to prevent the project from moving forward with the current design, which they say would cause negative environmental impacts by diverting drivers an extra 8 to 22 miles. 

i81_viaduct_project_ENR.jpgLight blue areas show work under the first contract, and light green shows areas under the second contract. Map courtesy of NYSDOT

New York officials have touted the community grid option as a design that would help reconnect predominantly Black neighborhoods that were split by the viaduct’s construction decades ago. But the community advocates say the state’s review of the plan did not adequately evaluate the impact of added traffic in their neighborhoods along proposed Business Loop 81. 

“The project would result in traffic delays and backups (making the community grid into community gridlock),” attorneys for Renew 81 wrote in a court filing. 

Neri’s order states that demolition of the viaduct could not begin until the supplement is completed, though he did allow work on the early contracts to proceed. Attorneys for Renew 81 then sought to reargue their points in order to prevent any work from moving forward, but in May the judge denied the request.

The third planned contract’s scope would include improvements to streets in Syracuse’s Northside neighborhood, including rehabilitation of Bear Street between I-690 and the planned Business Loop 81. 

Further contracts under the community grid plan would cover reconstruction of parts of I-690, which meets I-81 in downtown Syracuse, demolition of the viaduct, construction of Business Loop 81 and various bridge replacements, street reconstructions and other local street improvements. State transportation officials had planned for work on some of those contracts to start this year. 

New York State Dept. of Transportation officials plan to hold an informal open house about the northern interchange contract Aug. 10 at North Syracuse Junior High School. Officials say it's part of their “ongoing commitment to public engagement and communication in the construction of transportation projects.”