In April of 1958 Syracuse officials first learned that the New York State Department of Transportation planned to build an elevated interstate highway through the center of the city. Their immediate reaction was outrage.
Mayor Anthony Henninger said an elevated highway would “imprison” downtown and that elevated highways have “ruined other cities.” City engineer Potter Kelly said “Anything elevated is bad, I would oppose such plans.” Carl Maar, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said downtown growth was already restricted on the west by elevated railroad tracks; “We don’t want another Chinese wall,” he said. Common Council president Roy Simmons said “I’m definitely opposed to such a highway plan. It defaces the appearance of the city.” Simmons doubted the state could “jam an elevated highway plan down the throats of Syracusans.” The state could, and it did.
Half a century later we can see those initial warnings were prophetic. The I-81 viaduct has divided Syracuse for five decades now.
Compare the urban density of 1955, before the interstates were introduced into downtown, with the landscape of today: