We have an impressive and extensive network of highways throughout Central New York that allow drivers to traverse the region with many options. A small section of this network, 1.4 miles of I-81 elevated viaduct between Downtown and University Hill, was tumultuously inserted into the city of Syracuse in the 1960s, replacing a large section of dense neighborhoods [read more about the history of the viaduct]. As the viaduct has now reached the end of its useful life, the time has come to re-imagine this important corridor through our city.
A recent study commissioned by the Downtown Committee looked at the relative property values per acre for the entire county. It found that the highest values, by far, were concentrated in Downtown Syracuse and University Hill. Upon closer investigation of the findings, though, it was made evident that there is an incredible drop in value along the shared border between these two neighborhoods — the Interstate 81 viaduct.
It is obvious to almost anyone who has stood alongside the viaduct that it is not a desirable element in our city. Development patterns reflect this, with the dominant land uses adjacent to the viaduct being surface parking lots, parking garages, and the utilitarian backsides of buildings. Imagine the potential of this land, with immediate access to two of the most valuable areas in our county, if the primary deterrent to pedestrians and development — the viaduct — were to be removed.
Additionally, the viaduct really does take up a lot of space, especially when on/off ramps and interchanges are present. Take a look at the existing viaduct above. If that were to be removed, and an appropriate urban street were to be implemented in its place, over 7 acres of land that is currently owned by the state could be returned to the city and once again become productive, developable, and tax-producing. The area shaded in blue below is this land, between Adams Street and Erie Boulevard.
The street in this scheme is sized appropriately according to the initial traffic studies done by the DOT. It allows for traffic to flow freely in both directions, with synchronized stoplights, and offers a multitude of routes to/from Downtown and University Hill, rather than the select few, often-clogged ramps of the viaduct. We purposely have not addressed the connection between the street and 690/81 to the north, as the DOT traffic engineers are still working this out.
The potential of this new urban street is tremendous. It re-stitches two vibrant neighborhoods, provides better access to and from them, and opens the doors for an incredible amount of new development. See our images depicting what this could look like.