What Would Syracuse Look Like Without Interstate 81?

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It's long been the talk of the town.

"Ever since I moved back to Syracuse, the topic of discussion, one of the top topics, has been the replacement of 81, and what's going to happen," software developer Mark Headd said. "It seemed like there was a lot of very general and vague discussion about increased travel times, and big headaches for people."

So he made his attempt at a solution.

"I wanted to see if I could create a way for people to personally examine the impact that traveling on 81 through downtown Syracuse has," Headd said.

He created without81.com. Users can enter the address of the place they're leaving, and the place they're going to. It will then look up two sets of directions -- one that shows the typical route, and another that avoids the segment of 81 through downtown Syracuse.

"In most cases, it turns out the benefit is really just a couple of minutes in travel time, and to me, that seems like not a really good trade-off for a lot of the potential benefits we could get as a city if we didn't have an interstate highway going through downtown Syracuse," Headd said.

Headd believes the boulevard option would be an economic driver for Syracuse and its urban core, but 81 proponents are skeptical of his model and said it doesn't tell the whole story.

"There's a lot of other facets to whatever option that goes on -- how you connect to the North and how the North connects in, and the 690 interchange and all that's there north of that viaduct," Salina Town Supervisor Mark Nicotra said.

It's a viaduct that many rely on.

"The region has grown up around having that path of the highway, and any change to that dilutes what has occurred while it's been there, so it will certainly affect businesses and stuff that have grown up around the highway," Nicotra said.

An entire area will be impacted by any I-81 decision. Headd hopes his website will help people see how they will be, too.

The Department of Transportation has not yet made a recommendation for the future of I-81. A draft environmental impact statement is expected by the end of the year.

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