The elevated portion of Interstate 81 that has divided downtown Syracuse since the early 1960s, and has stood as a failed monument to urban renewal, is one step closer to coming down. 

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the release of the draft environmental impact statement for the span’s replacement. But even after a decade of debate, there is still plenty of pushback against the plan, and plenty of questions regarding the span’s future. 

“I think the [New York State Department of Transportation] has done its job, and it’s moving everything forward to the next phase,” state Assembly Transportation Chairman Bill Magnarelli, of the Syracuse area, told Capital Tonight.

The next phase of the $2 billion project is a 60-day public comment period, which ends September 14.

When asked how residents of Syracuse who live close to the elevated bridge are expected to weather months of construction, Magnarelli said he is quite concerned.

“This is such major construction for Syracuse. There’s going to be multiple neighborhoods and places that are going to be affected. Pioneer Homes obviously is ground zero,” Magnarelli said. “That’s where the viaduct is; it goes right outside some peoples’ windows.”

Magnarelli told Capital Tonight that when it comes time for the viaduct to come down, the families who live in the Pioneer Homes, a public housing complex directly adjacent to the span, are going to, at least temporarily, have to be moved somewhere else.

“That’s something that I hope people are planning for. I’ve talked to the City of Syracuse administrations over the last years. I’ve talked to Syracuse Housing, which is basically the landlord for Pioneer Homes,” Magnarelli said. “And the idea is to build new housing because Pioneer Homes, its useful life is basically over.”

The issue of dislocation in and around the 15th Ward is especially fraught since the same community was fractured in the 1960s when the span was originally built.

There are several efforts underway to ensure the desires of the residents of the 15th Ward are heard and taken into serious consideration.

There is also an on-going effort supported in part by the Allyn Foundation called Blueprint 15, which is working in partnership with the City of Syracuse, the Syracuse Housing Authority and the Syracuse City School District to create a “purpose-built community” tailored to the needs of the current residents of the 15th Ward. 

Public hearings on the DEIS are scheduled for August 17 and 18.