This is the first in a series of blog posts that will highlight stories from other cities and regions that have faced challenges comparable to that of the Syracuse region and the I-81 corridor. To read other blog posts in the series, click here.
Freeways have been constructed through the downtowns of many cities across the United States. Many of these highways were constructed in the 1960s or 1970s, and were intended to ensure economic viability in an era when suburban growth, along with car ownership and use, was accelerating. It was feared that without the direct connections that highways provided, cities would die. At the time, there were differing opinions about the decisions to locate highways through the centers of cities; in hindsight, there are decidedly mixed conclusions as to whether the highways have done more harm or good. Some argue that urban highways resulted in collateral damage in the form of environmental, social, aesthetic, and economic impacts on the city, contributing to the decline of the urban areas in recent decades. Others emphasize the positive role that these highways play in providing access to downtowns and moving people and goods regionally.
Many of these urban highways are now over fifty years old and are in need of major investment. In some cities, this has been viewed as an opportunity to address any negative impacts associated with the first generation of urban highway construction, and, depending on the highway’s role in the regional transportation network, to broadly reconsider the future infrastructure and mobility needs of the city and the region.
The Syracuse region is not alone in facing this situation. As part of The I-81 Challenge, a case study report was written which tells the stories of some other cities and regions that have faced challenges comparable to that of Syracuse and the I-81 corridor. All of the cases included in the report involve the major reconstruction or reconfiguration of an urban limited access highway. Some are completed projects, and others are in various stages of planning and public discussion. Common outcomes that have been considered include:
- Reconstruct an elevated highway
- Bury the highway
- Depress the highway
- Relocate the highway
- Remove the highway and replace with a boulevard
These cases offer a wide array of options for consideration as we begin to explore possibilities for the future of I-81 in Syracuse.