Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - Downtown Syracuse could look very different in the near future as plans to update the 81 viaduct move forward.
Families on the North Side were invited to share their thoughts and ask questions Tuesday night, but they didn’t get many answers because New York State Department of Transportation officials insist everything is still under review.
Options could include rebuilding the viaduct through Syracuse, demolishing it with street level updates, diverting traffic around the city or digging a tunnel.
Each scenario has contributed to a sometimes emotionally charged debate.
"It's an unsafe and environmentally hazardous monstrosity out there. Just take the signs off 81 and put them over on 481 because the vast majority of freight is not coming through Syracuse," said truck driver Larry Carter Center.
Residents were told a series of neighborhood meetings hosted by the NYSDOT would offer people a chance to stay informed and get involved. But, many people left Tuesday's event feeling frustrated.
"I'm part of the community and I've come up with an alternative solution which I think is extremely viable and I've presented that alternative to the DOT, but I can't get the DOT to respond to me,” said Jason Sperry, who runs an engineering company.
Sperry is pushing for an underground tunnel in Syracuse. NYSDOT representative Joe Flint said he isn't sure if Sperry's design is being considered, but a tunnel is one option.
With reviews still underway, there are few concrete answers. Flint told residents at Tuesday's meeting that there is no defined budget for the project. He wasn't sure if a health impact assessment would be part of the environmental review process.
Syracuse resident Barry Lentz asked if the quality of life impact would be weighted to give people living near the viaduct more input. Flint didn't have a clear answer.
"People who live within the footprint of the viaduct or near the viaduct are in a very different situation and their quality of life is impacted much more profoundly," Lentz explained.
"I think we're going to allow the process to work itself out to see what it tells us," Flint said.
Even city officials say they have had limited involvement with the process. Common Councilors passed a resolution on Monday, calling on state and federal leaders to give a Syracuse official more input before a decision is made.
"For the past 50 some-odd years, Syracuse has had to bear the brunt of all the negatives of I-81 and enjoyed very few of the positives," said Van Robinson, Syracuse Common Council President. “It is essential that Syracuse has a seat at the table."
Until then, they join a long list of people on the sidelines waiting for more answers.
Three more neighborhood meetings about the I-81 viaduct will be held this month.
The next one is Wednesday, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Everson Museum in Syracuse.
On Tuesday, October 29, a meeting will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Fowler High School.
On Wednesday, October 30, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. a meeting will be held at the Town of Dewitt Community Room in East Syracuse.