If you’ve been keeping up with The I-81 Challenge in the news and on our website, then you know that our community has some exciting (and challenging) decisions to make about the future of I-81.

You also may have heard that the ultimate decision about this project is years away, and that actual construction will not begin for quite some time. So, why does the process of making decisions about a project like this take so long? What will be going on during all of those years of deciding?

The answer lies in the transportation decision making process. Resolving complex questions about the future of transportation infrastructure (like I-81) takes time. And, it should; the transportation decision making process is designed to involve many voices, consider many options, and weigh all the trade-offs associated with a large scale project.

This graphic, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, illustrates the transportation decision-making process on a macro-level

As the figure above illustrates, transportation planning is a cooperative effort that involves all users of the system, such as business owners, community groups, the traveling public, residents and freight operators. Making transportation decisions involves a number of steps, including:

- Monitoring existing conditions (like aging bridge spans)
- Forecasting the impact of future population and employment growth on transportation projects
- Identifying current and future problems and transportation needs
- Developing plans for improvements and solutions
- Estimating the impact of these potential future improvements on things like air quality, traffic flow, etc.
- Developing financial plans for securing revenue to implement improvement projects

The process for The I-81 Challenge is being led by two parties, the New York State Department of Transportation, or NYSDOT and the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC).

NYSDOT owns the road and therefore has the ultimate responsibility for any decision about I-81. NYSDOT is responsible for overseeing the decision-making process and, eventually, construction. In this project, SMTC’s role is to manage technical and public involvement aspects of the planning effort, and approve the capital program for the federal funding that will help pay for the project once a decision has been reached. (Click here to learn more about SMTC.)

As those agencies lead the effort, there are many other voices that are included as well. For The I-81 Challenge: SMTC and NYSDOT are being assisted by a Study Advisory Committee, which is made up of representatives of SMTC member agencies. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other federal agencies will also be involved and will oversee adherence to federal transportation planning and design regulations throughout the process. The public will also play an important role in the decision making process, because this project has the potential to impact anyone who lives and works in the Syracuse region. Public input will help guide the development of options for the future of I-81 and inform the evaluation criteria that will be used to narrow down the potential options.

Here are just a few ways you can get involved in the process:

- Come to our first set of public workshops being planned for spring 2011.
- Join our mailing list
- Take our questionnaire

Understanding the components of the decision making process around The I-81 Challenge is an important part of being involved in the project. This journey will take several years, and we’re glad to have you along for the ride!

Still have questions about the process or the project? You can always send us an email comment at or call at 315-422-5716 or write us at any time.

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