CNY Solidarity Coalition

I-81 Analyses : Community Grid supports Syracuse

With respect to the I-81 replacement, I would like to give my input.  After considering the three proposed options in great detail, I am strongly opposed to the tunnel.  The DOT removed this option for consideration last fall due to high costs for construction and yearly maintenance, but special interests have lobbied and convinced politicians to sneak this option back into consideration.  The tunnel is by far more costly to build and maintain, has almost double the construction time, which will disrupt traffic and the surrounding neighborhoods, and has the highest energy requirements of the three options.  It also requires a large air exchanger and a new water treatment plant to treat groundwater which must be pumped out 24/7.  NYS must support only sustainable infrastructure, not infrastructure with high energy demands and high environmental impacts.

An estimated 91000 vehicles travel either into or through Syracuse daily.  Of that total, approximately 12% is thru-traffic.  So during construction, about 11000 vehicles will get diverted around the city.  The viaduct includes no plans to improve or expand Route 481, yet will divert traffic onto that highway for about 5 years.  The tunnel also has no plans for Route 481 expansion/improvement, yet will divert traffic onto this route for 8 to 10 years.  The only option that includes plans to expand and improve both Routes 481 and 90 is the community grid, with this section of the project occurring in the first two years of construction.  In the latter phase of construction of the community grid, when traffic needs to be diverted, these roadways will already be prepared for additional traffic.  If NYS chooses the viaduct or tunnel, with no improvements and expansions made to Route 481, it could be disastrous.  The number of accidents and traffic jams could be significant and could open NYS up to lawsuits.  For this reason, the community grid is the superior option; the scope of the community grid includes expansion of affected roadways.

Most importantly, the community grid would have the best impact on the neighborhoods in close proximity to I-81.  It would replace the blighted area beneath the present viaduct with a tree-lined avenue.  Years ago I studied air pollution, and I recall the CO monitor levels at the intersection of Almond and Adams Streets were often out of compliance.  By diverting about 11000 vehicles around the city and then spreading the remainder of traffic to different streets in the grid, the air pollution will be both reduced and diluted benefiting neighborhoods already burdened with heavier concentrations of air pollution and noise.

In conclusion, the two million dollars used to further study a tunnel shouldn’t have been wasted on a tunnel which won’t serve the community needs and which will further burden the city and region with higher infrastructure costs and impacts.  The two million dollars should have been used to find ways to better serve surrounding neighborhoods and regions with an improved transportation network to mesh with the community grid and expanded routes.  Unfortunately, special interests got their way.

Overview Table






Cost to NYS: 15% used

$1.3 Billion

$195 Million

$1.7 Billion

$255 Million

$3.1 Billion

$465 Million





10-15 to 100+ is range over 7 tunnel options w the lower requiring tunneling under existing bldgs. Adding to cost


3 – 5 years w/ years 1 – 2 not diverting traffic

3 – 5 years w traffic diverted entire time

8 – 10 years w traffic diverted entire time


Nominal at first, grows over life of grid; smallest of three options

Nominal at first & grows w time

$10 – 13 M more than the other two at first, differential growing over life of tunnel to $20 M (24/7 staffing & elec. For pumps & lights)


Street lights

Street lights

Pumps to remove water & fumes and to pump in air. Lights 24/7, fire suppression monitors, intelligent transportation system

Note some figures in the above table have been simplified.  I stated NYS contribution as 15% of total cost, although in some sections of a project it will be 10% and in some it will be 20%.  With the 7 tunnel options, I averaged or gave a range for values.  In every criteria listed, the community grid is by far the superior of the three options.  It costs less to both build and maintain, it impacts fewer properties and has minimal annual energy usage, not to mention the many trees that will be planted.

Additional Input

Community Grid is the only option that includes improvements to Rts 481 and 90, along w/ improvements of city streets/intersections to accommodate the increase in traffic.  The first 2 years of Community Grid construction are mainly to improve/expand 481 & 90 for increased traffic before construction starts on the main section thru the city.

Comments I made after attending an information session on 4/6: 

Of the panel of speakers, three had very strong arguments, speaking for others who either could not speak for themselves or who would feel too threatened to voice their needs.

One spoke of the housing needs of those who live in close proximity to I-81, and of their needs during construction to be shielded from the dust and noise.  A second speaker spoke of the affects of air pollution and noise on children who reside in Pioneer Homes.  He referred to “skin in the game” but it was obvious he meant lungs in the game.  He said this was a death sentence for a child with asthma.  It was not hyperbole.  A third speaker spoke of providing the best and safest solution for a school in close proximity to I-81.

I won’t touch on all that the three speakers said, but instead will point out two things they had in common: concern for people who are unable to move from the affected area due to their economic situation and a desire to obtain the best possible outcome from this project for those affected people.  All three felt the community grid was the best option for the people most affected by I-81: those who live and go to school in close proximity to I-81.

Two other speakers were businessmen.  An owner of a business on South Salina Street fears his business could be negatively impacted by the community grid.  The route to his store from the south would be unaffected, yet he felt most of his business comes from the north.  In my opinion, once people get used to using Route 481 during construction, they won’t go back to traveling I-81 through the city.  And considering that he owns a distribution center in Liverpool, his business is in good position to expand and thrive when the community grid is built and maybe even due to the community grid being built.

The other businessman represented several Town of Salina business owners who formed an organization called Save 81, as if Route 81 is some historic landmark.  I-81 was an aberration from its beginning, and if replaced with a tunnel or new viaduct, several historic landmarks will be demolished as well as several economically sound businesses. The community grid will demolish 5 properties, the viaduct 24, and the tunnel 10 to 100.  Downtown businesses shouldn’t get demolished for the sake of some lost revenue for Pyramid & others.  This will discourage businesses from locating in downtown Syracuse, whereas, the community grid would encourage more development downtown.

Save 81 has recruited people in Skaneateles to be on their side with the fear-mongering remote possibility of trucks carrying toxic waste through their town spilling into the lake which supplies drinking water to many.  These trucks are mandated to travel on Route 90 to Seneca Meadows, so this is an enforcement issue.  Also, Seneca Meadows is scheduled to close in 2020, well before end of I-81 construction.  And, a truck bypass of the village of Skaneateles could be constructed at a fraction of the cost of a tunnel or viaduct.

Construction of a tunnel will take 8 to 10 years with negative impacts on many during that whole time.  Long tunnel ramps may make motorists unlikely to exit once they’re in it, causing them to stay in the tunnel straight through.  This will cause the effect of a “drive-under” city, making Syracuse essentially invisible to motorists passing through.

$2 M was allocated to study a tunnel and only $200K to study the changes needed to be made to housing units in close proximity to I-81.  Inequity doesn’t get any more obvious than that.  NYS promises to do sustainable infrastructure, yet the tunnel is the least sustainable option with energy required to pump in air and pump out fumes and water.  And the water will be brine, therefore requiring disposal as wastewater, which can’t be treated in the Metropolitan Treatment Plant causing the need for a new treatment facility to be built.  A huge air exchanger will be needed.  It’s almost certain that both of these will be located in close proximity to neighborhoods which are already most impacted.  The tunnel also requires 24/7 lighting, staffing, fire-suppression monitoring and intelligent transportation system monitoring.  Yet, moneyed special interests convince NYS politicians to resurrect this unsustainable option with $2 M to study it and extra costs of repairs to crumbling I-81 during the delay that’s caused by the study.

What will it take to convince NYS to spend $2 M to study the option that is best for those with no voice, those afraid to speak up because they feel threatened, those too busy with everyday struggles to have a voice?  What will it to take to get NYS to spend $2 M to figure out how to make the community grid (the most sustainable option) work best for those most impacted?  The $2 M should be spent determining how best to protect them during construction.  It should be spent planning how best to improve the roadways in surrounding areas, how to improve traffic lights and street lights in the surrounding neighborhoods, and how best to make a union of downtown, the neighborhoods, the university and the hospitals.  It should be spent studying the changes needed for housing.

In addition to the neighborhoods adjacent to I-81, the eastern suburbs will be impacted.  This project is a once-in-a-generation transportation overhaul.  It should be treated as such and a wide net cast to take into account the burdens on interconnected roadways.  Route 481 should be expanded at the Fayetteville-DeWitt exit/entrance ramps bridge in addition to the planned expansion over the railroad.  The feeder roads into Route 481 should be studied to minimize bottlenecks and delays.  The Seneca Turnpike in Syracuse could be improved for better traffic flow.  Jamesville has many traffic limitations due to a railroad crossing and bridge that could be studied.  Route 5 from DeWitt in one direction and Fayetteville in the other is already overburdened due to growth outpacing changes to this roadway.  And Route 92 from Lyndon Corners to Oran Church could be expanded to two lanes in the direction toward Syracuse to accommodate morning traffic.

Treating this as a regional project will benefit the most impacted neighborhoods and regions.  Mass transit that best serves the entire region should be considered.  Another possibility; make Shoppingtown Mall into a service rest stop to serve the new I-81 and boost DeWitt’s economy.  Of course, all affected neighborhoods need to be consulted in decision-making.  The community grid is the only solution that speaks to social, economic and environmental justice and historic preservation.  Therefore, this option should be studied more thoroughly to determine how best to implement it.  By viewing this as a regional transportation overhaul and upgrade, NYS will create more jobs, produce the most equitable transportation network and positively impact the region’s economy.  All while obtaining social, environmental and economic equity.

~ Diana Ryan

Contact Information

Governor’s office

(518) 474-8390

The Hon. Andrew Cuomo

Governor of New York State

NYS State Capitol Building

Albany, New York 12224

Phone calls to make:

– John Katko


– William Magnarelli


– John DeFrancisco


– Gary Finch


DOT Commissioner

(518) 457-4422

Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll

50 Wolf Road

Albany, New York 12232

Additional Resources/Articles


The summaries on I-81 options on the CNY Solidarity website were based on data from the Department of Transportation (DOT). Here are some things to know about the DOT:

The DOT is held to a high standard of objectivity, transparency and data analysis.

The DOT is a NYS agency that analyzes transportation options for the community without regard to special interests; therefore, objectivity level is high.

The DOT has provided an I-81 website, multiple community forums and available hours each week in downtown Syracuse to answer questions; therefore, transparency is high.

Each of the commute times computed by DOT was averaged over 100 trials taking into consideration delays due to accidents; therefore, rigorous data analysis.


In response to the Spectra review of community grid alternative:

Objectivity: Spectra is hired by SAVE81 which has the specified goal of keeping a north-south route thru Syracuse, therefore Spectra’s objectivity is compromised.

Transparency: Spectra obtained a draft of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), and claimed the FOIL process was used to obtain this draft. The draft of a DEIS is not made publicly available, because it is in the review process, thereby subject to change. How Spectra obtained this draft is suspect. The reason for Spectra doing this “analysis” before the actual DEIS from DOT is available should be questioned.

Data analysis: Spectra analyzed a 10000+ page report in 2 weeks. This analysis is almost devoid of cited data, and repeatedly questions DOT’s rigorous data analysis.


The report states, “Spectra has been asked to review the Community Grid Alternative from the perspective of future traffic flows, travel times in the corridor, resulting Levels of Service on the local street system and overall highway safety and economic impacts.” They didn’t review health impacts, environmental impacts, social impacts or overall cost.

Spectra states the Community Grid Option “would run counter to all urban transportation planning precepts of the last hundred years.” They don’t mention that many of those planning precepts were disastrous policy that divided cities, placing disproportionate burdens on communities of color.

Spectra states that the basic parameter for highway comparisons is travel time and to a lesser degree distance, operating costs and accident costs. Completely ignored are the most important factors pertaining to community well-being. Spectra goes on to state that, as originally planned and built, I-81’s benefits far exceeded costs. This is a blinkered view divorcing highway performance from negative social costs to a community.

The section on safety focuses only on the cost of accidents, not on injuries which would

be more severe, or fatalities which would be more numerous at higher speed travel. Also, the cost relevant only to accidents is viewed, not subsequent costs of missed work, doctors’ visits, or other costs due to losses.

The sections on travel time and traffic impacts, attempt to question the DOT’s analysis, calling the travel time analysis “grossly optimistic” and contesting the numbers of diverted and street traffic. In my phone calls and visits to downtown DOT I-81 Opportunity Office, I have yet to meet a grossly optimistic DOT employee. As stated earlier, DOT’s data analysis is rigorous. They are held to a higher standard than Spectra is. Spectra also adds an analysis of trucker travel times with no data backing it up.

The section on Economic Impact is devoid of substantive arguments to back up the conclusion of “dire economic consequences”. And, “a major segment of the transportation system” will not be severed; it will be replaced with alternate routes.

The air quality section cites 2 studies on auto emissions from 1995 & 96, twenty years ago when vehicles had different consumption levels. Fuel consumption of present & future automobiles will be lesser in city conditions due to the increase of hybrids & electric vehicles in use. Sections on air quality and noise neglect the benefits that the community grid would have on opening up routes to pedestrian and bicycle traffic and to a more flexible bus route network, thereby reducing emissions and noise from commuting traffic. In addition, traffic would be spread along many routes, dispersing noise and emissions so they are no longer concentrated in any one area. Trees planted along the avenues will absorb both greenhouse gases and noise. Because high concentrations of pollutants affect health, dispersion is a key mitigation technique.

SAVE81 is a huge proponent of a tunnel which requires energy 24/7 for pumps, lights & monitoring equipment. Groundwater pumped out is brine and cannot be treated in the Metropolitan Water Treatment Plant, thereby requiring a new treatment plant with its subsequent energy requirements. An air exchanger is needed to pump out fumes and pump in air. These two processes will produce air pollution and noise that will not be spread out over many streets. They will burden the neighborhoods around them.

The section on visual impact was pretty subjective and really not worth reviewing. So, to sum things up, Spectra’s conclusion to drop the community grid option from further consideration is unsubstantiated nonsense.



community grid review.doc

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