April 22, 2019

Grains of Salt (v45): The I-81 DEIS is Here

Grains of Salt
The long-awaited New York State Department of Transportation Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the I-81 viaduct project is finally here.

After months and months of fits and starts, including a call for a do-over from our Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo to consider a tunnel option, we now have the recommendation from the state, and they believe a community grid is the best option for the Central New York area.

Here's what the DEIS says on the proposed solution:
S.5.3 COMMUNITY GRID ALTERNATIVE / PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE Based on a balanced consideration of the need for safe and efficient transportation; the social, economic, and environmental effects of the project alternatives; and national, state, and local environmental protection goals, the Community Grid Alternative would be selected as the preferred alternative. FHWA and NYSDOT will consider all comments received on this DDR/DEIS. 
That's the answer that we've been waiting for here in the city - I don't think any of my city friends wanted anything but the grid; even a number of my non-city friends are grid supporters, as are a number of suburban folks who spoke at the listening session Rep. John Katko held in the city and in the three suburban meetings he held.

And while all of the Town Supervisors and the Republican-majority County Legislature supported a hybrid grid/tunnel combo, that was nixed , as were all of the other tunnel and depressed highway solutions in the DEIS.
Potential Alternative T-7 involves the construction of a high-speed, non-interstate tunnel in addition to all of the improvements associated with the Community Grid Alternative. The construction of Alternative T-7 largely would be implemented underground, using a tunnel boring machine and sequential excavation method. While there are some risks associated with all underground construction, the use of these conventional and known tunneling methods would allow the alternative to pass on constructability. Alternative T-7 would require the acquisition of 11 properties and would cost $2.5 billion, both of which are considered unreasonable. For these reasons, Alternative T-7 was dismissed from further consideration. 
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh released this statement:
I am very glad that the DEIS is out, and I’m pleased that it identifies the Community Grid as the preferred alternative. The DEIS is the most comprehensive source for the facts and data our community needs to evaluate the project. My team and I will be closely reviewing the report in the days and weeks ahead, and the City will participate actively in the public engagement process to ensure that the needs and concerns of the people of the City of Syracuse and the entire region are considered by DOT. The more people engage, the better the outcome will be.
County Executive Ryan McMahon's spokesman said McMahon was reviewing the report, and noted
As the County Executive has said repeatedly, this is a decision that will have impacts across the County and region and it is critical that appropriate mitigation measures are also taken to minimize any potential negative impacts. We cannot allow a single decision to halt the momentum our community is experiencing.
State officials were briefed on the report today; McMahon and others will be briefed tomorrow morning.

State Senator Rachel May, who represents my district, said this in a statement:
The grid has long been my preferred option, because I believe it offers the best opportunity to simultaneously redress historical injustices and help Syracuse become the engine of growth for the whole region There will now be a lengthy public comment period, during which we can all study the careful analysis DOT has performed and weigh in with our concerns and suggestions.
There'll be much more to come, but there's happiness in many parts of Central New York tonight, as well as dismay in others.

We've got quite a challenge ahead of us, and hopefully people will rise to the occasion, instead of falling to it.

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