To keep the aging relic blighting downtown, or tear it down?
That’s the question looming over many American cities with Eisenhower-era highways these days. And nowhere is that question more immediate than in Syracuse.
Syracuse’s Interstate 81 is one of the best candidates for a highway teardown in the country. The aging elevated freeway is widely considered a blight on the city and is nearing the end of its useful life. The state of New York is considering a plan to tear it down and replace it with an at-grade boulevard.
If Syracuse tears down I-81 — and there are a lot of compelling reasons to do that — it could set an important precedent for other American cities, helping to make intentional highway removal more common.
The removal of I-81 enjoys a great deal of grassroots and political support, but nothing worthwhile ever happens without a fight, and a new group has emerged to oppose the teardown. They call themselves Save 81.
Among Save 81′s public list of members are a number of suburban politicians and business owners who believe the highway is vital to their interests.
The issue has been heating up since last year, when state officials narrowed down the options for I-81 to two: tear it down or rebuild it. In doing so, the state acknowledged that burying the roadway is not financially feasible.