With the publication today of the third and final White Paper, the planning phase of The I-81 Challenge is now complete.  This marks the beginning of the project’s environmental review phase, which is subject to both Federal and New York State oversight.

The I-81 Challenge is a planning study and one of several steps to the official decision-making process for determining the future of the 12-mile I-81 corridor through the greater Syracuse region.  Beginning in 2008, the New York State DOT engaged SMTC to facilitate the public participation for The I-81 Challenge.

The publication of White Paper #3 today is the final step in The I-81 Challenge planning phase.  It documents, describes and synthesizes findings from The I-81 Challenge Public Participation Program from Fall 2011 until its conclusion in August 2013.  Two previous white paper reports have been published: White Paper #1, which identified seven public participation objectives, and White Paper #2, which documented the use of various outreach and participation methods from the inception of The I-81 Challenge in 2008 through the first public meeting in 2011.  Taken together, the three white paper reports present a complete summary of all public involvement efforts throughout the course of The I-81 Challenge.  All three white paper reports can be found on the Study Reports and Documents Page of The I-81 Challenge study site.

The public outreach and involvement effort for The I-81 Challenge was extensive, comprehensive and successful.  This effort was designed to help residents of the Syracuse region learn about I-81 and voice their ideas about future options.

Highlights of this effort include:

* Three highly attended public information meetings in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  These public meetings were held at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse and designed to be as accessible as possible to the greatest number of residents.  Free bus passes and parking were offered as were sign language and foreign language interpreting services.  Virtual online meetings let individuals participate remotely.

* Online and interactive features that included a robust website, dedicated Facebook page and an I-81 video series.

* Ongoing community participation through focus groups, community meetings and the Community Liaison and Municipal Liaison Committees.  A total of 38 neighborhood and community interest groups joined the Community Liaison Committee to represent residents and encourage participation.  The SMTC conducted 23 focus group meetings and held over 20 meetings with community groups.

* Newsletters and announcements delivered throughout the planning phase.  More than 4,000 people were sent meeting notices via USPS mail.  1,200 people received twenty-eight e-mail messages since the The I-81 Challenge began.

On August 5, the SMTC’s Policy Committee authorized funding for environmental review.  The environmental review will be managed by the NYSDOT and will culminate in the publication of an official Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the I-81 Viaduct project.  The SMTC, with all of its member agencies, will be an active participant in this process.

Public involvement will be an essential part of the recently initiated NYSDOT I-81 Viaduct project during the environmental review process.  NYSDOT plans to engage the public through large public meetings and open houses, smaller group or individual meetings on the project’s status and progress, formation of stakeholder groups, launching of the I-81 Opportunities website, and other public outreach efforts.  The Central New York community is encouraged to participate in these and other opportunities for public participation and input in the future.

The environmental review must meet requirements established by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR).


1.) Nearly 500 to 700 participants at each of the three public meetings, with an additional 200 to 300 participants in each of the virtual on-line meetings.

2.) About 400 unique users visited the study website per month, with much higher numbers around public meetings.

3.) 352 Facebook followers.

4.) 23 focus group meetings held throughout region.

5.) Over 20 meetings held with community groups.

6.) 4,300 individuals and businesses received meeting notices

7.) Over 1,200 email addresses received twenty-eight study messages.

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