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Editor's Notebook March 2023

Craig Mongeau - Editor in Chief - March 2023

On this past Valentine's Day, contractors who are working on the $2.25 billion I-81 project received a nice gift when a judge ruled that the project can continue. The decision, however, also stated that state transportation officials must complete more environmental reviews before razing the I-81 viaduct through Syracuse. The viaduct is scheduled to be removed in three years.

The judge's decision is in response to a group called Renew 81 for All, led by former Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler and includes suburban towns and others who oppose replacing the 81 viaduct with a "community grid" of city streets.

While the I-81 project can proceed, the judge in effect sided with Renew for 81 when he agreed that state's environmental review is incomplete. He remains concerned about the potential population and traffic surge upon completion of Micron's chip fabrication plant. Site prep for this project begins this year and is projected to create approximately 5,600 construction-related jobs. What the judge appears to be concerned about is that in total, the new plant is expected to provide 50,000 jobs in the area with 9,000 directly working for the company. The judge also is worried about air pollution along I-481 if the viaduct is removed and traffic is diverted to the interstate. The judge essentially ruled that none of these environmental impacts would occur if the viaduct remains intact.

The state disagrees and said this ruling could eventually delay the project because of the uncertainty of how another environmental study could turn out. The state already conducted a nine-year environmental study, which led it to approving tearing down the viaduct.

The state awarded the first of several construction contracts in January when it awarded a $296.4 million contract with a team called Salt City Contractors LLC, which includes Lancaster Development and Tully Construction, doing business as L&T Construction; and D.A. Collins Construction Co. and Cold Spring Construction Co.

Like the overall project, this fight over I-81 and the viaduct appears to be a long-term situation and it also seems like the state better get moving on another (expedited) environmental review and hope for the best, at least as far they're concerned. P