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Construction Of The I-81 Viaduct Displaced Residents of Syracuse’s 15thWard, Divided Syracuse and Contributed to The Decline Of The Neighborhoods In Its Shadow


Bipartisan Infrastructure & Jobs Law Created First-Of-Its-Kind “Reconnecting Communities Program” To Address The Legacy Of Highway Construction Fracturing Neighborhoods – Now Syracuse Will Be Among The First In The Nation To Tap This Funding


U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced that the City of Syracuse’s Reconnecting a Post I-81 Viaduct Syracuse application has been awarded $500,000 through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act’s Reconnecting Communities program. The senators explained that this makes Syracuse among the first in the nation to tap this historic program to bolster communities, like Syracuse, divided by highways, like I-81, that were built through neighborhoods. This planning grant will address the legacy of division and segregation tied to the I-81 viaduct by ensuring that, after the viaduct comes down, Southside residents will have greater connectivity and access to important local assets, including major employers, healthcare resources, and the academic community.


“Syracuse will be among the first in the nation to tap the Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Law’s historic Reconnecting Communities program to accelerate the plan to reconnect Syracuse’s neighborhoods torn apart by the I-81 Viaduct. This $500,000 investment will help local leaders study how to best to revitalize downtown Syracuse to reconnect the community that the current I-81 Viaduct divides,” said Senator Schumer. “This funding allows the opportunity to right these wrongs and study how best to reconnect this community to new opportunities such as safe and protected pedestrian, bicycle, public transportation and bus rapid transit pathways. Our infrastructure should connect, not divide our communities, and that is why I fought so hard to create and fund the Reconnecting Communities program and called for Transportation Secretary Buttigieg to secure this federal funding to reunite Syracuse’s 15th Ward and the downtown communities that were divided by the I-81 Viaduct.”


“I fought for years to pass the Reconnecting Communities provisions of my Build Local, Hire Local Act, legislation that was inspired by meetings in Syracuse. I was proud to bring White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu to Syracuse last year to emphasize the importance of the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program and speak to him about Syracuse’s application. Today, I’m thrilled to be announcing that Syracuse will receive federal funding from the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This $500,000 will help Syracuse work toward reversing decades of disinvestment and exclusionary federal policies, revitalize the area surrounding I-81, and connect workers to good-paying jobs. I stood with local leaders and advocates every step of the way to make this happen and I’m committed to seeing this project through and getting Syracuse the federal resources it needs to thrive.”


The Reconnecting Communities planning grant will help improve access to careers, health care, education, and recreation for residents of the Syracuse’s Southside. For decades, the southside neighborhood has been isolated from greater Syracuse by the presence of the Interstate 81 viaduct and concrete elevated railroad tracks. The funding provided by this grant will allow the City of Syracuse to study the most effective methods to create safe and protected transportation routes for residents of the Southside neighborhood. The City and its collaborators will consider routes for pedestrians, bicyclists, and users of public transportation, including potential new Bus Rapid Transit pathways servicing multiple east-west routes across Syracuse’s Southside. This project is the product of broad community collaboration and engagement. The City of Syracuse has partnered with the Syracuse Housing Authority, the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority, the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, Blueprint 15, and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. In addition, the project is supported by more than a dozen neighborhood leaders and organizations.


“Our Reconnecting Communities project represents the best thinking of the City and our community partners on how to improve access to jobs, healthcare, education and recreation for people on the Southside,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “Working with residents, we will develop creative ideas to overcome the east-west barriers that Interstate 81 and the elevated railroad tracks across downtown have created for decades. The work will align with the Community Grid final design and the City’s actions to become a Vision Zero traffic safety city. I thank President Biden, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand who all have paid personal attention to the opportunity we have in Syracuse to reconnect communities and use infrastructure to create opportunity for people.”


“As a growing community, it is more important than ever that we make smart and strategic investments in our infrastructure. Thanks to the support of Senator Schumer, this grant will help Syracuse plan and invest for our infrastructure needs now and in the future,” said Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon.

"This grant has the potential to address some of the issues with segregation, inequity, and a lack of access that were in part created by the existing I-81 Viaduct.  As the viaduct comes down and the community grid replaces it, there exists an opportunity to leverage the synergy of the huge transportation investment, coupled with unprecedented expected local economic development to increase east-west pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation access. Reconnecting a community torn apart by the highway’s original construction requires the planning this grant will enable to realize the future social, economic, and quality of life issues as a part of this once-in-a-generation opportunity for our region. By moving us towards increasing transportation connections of all modes and for all people, this grant can be a part of creating the change Syracuse is hoping and planning to bring," said Jim D'Agostino, SMTC (Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council)

Schumer and Gillibrand advocated to the Department of Transportation for the City of Syracuse’s Reconnecting a Post I-81 Viaduct Syracuse application.  This call comes after Senator’s Schumer and Gillibrand personally brought Secretary Buttigieg to Syracuse in 2021 to show him Syracuse’s plans to transform I-81 into the Community Grid and reconnect this community.  President Biden also included the Reconnecting Communities proposal in his American Jobs Plan, directly mentioning Syracuse’s I-81 as an example of a project that would aim to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments.

Schumer and Gillibrand have a long history advocating for the transformation of I-81, they pushed for the use of a local hire program to connect disadvantaged workers to construction jobs created by the I-81 project. Senator Gillibrand introduced the Build Local, Hire Local Act in 2019, legislation that makes bold reforms to federal infrastructure programs, creates good-paying jobs, and works to right the wrongs of decades of disinvestment and exclusionary federal policies that have cut off communities of color and marginalized populations from opportunity in urban and rural areas alike. A local hire program was eventually included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs law. New York State will be one of the first users in the nation of the local hire program, utilizing the new authorities to provide local hire opportunities on the I-81 redevelopment as intended by Schumer and Gillibrand.

The transformation of I-81 in Syracuse could also benefit from several other programs included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs law. This includes $11.5 billion for New York State in new highway funding and $7.5 billion in new funding for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) competitive grant program (formerly known as BUILD and TIGER), which I-81 will be eligible for.

In 1958 a decision was made to run the I-81 Viaduct through the center of the City in Syracuse’s 15th Ward. This ward was home to around 90 percent of Syracuse black population. The construction of the I-81 Viaduct displaced more than 1,300 families. Since the 1960’s the City of Syracuse has been divided which has limited transportation, healthcare, career and recreation opportunities as well as contributed to the decline of neighborhoods in I-81’s shadow. Today, portions of I-81 have reached the end of their useful life, do not meet current standards and have high accidents rates. I-81 is one of the most traveled highways in the Central New York region, carrying 100,000 vehicles per day.


The Community Grid alternative to the I-81 Viaduct involves demolishing the I-81 Viaduct and replacing it with a street level community grid through downtown Syracuse,  a business loop to disperse traffic throughout the city, and an Interstate to accommodate high speed traffic needing to travel around the City of Syracuse. The entire project is set to cost $2.25 billion and be completed by 2028. Both Schumer and Gillibrand have been supportive of Community Grid Plan.


The Reconnecting Communities Program was created by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand in the Bipartisan Infrastructure & Jobs Law to help communities, like Syracuse, remove barriers like old highways and other transportation infrastructure that has limited the connectivity of the community. This is the first year of the $1 billion dollar program, making Syracuse one of the first communities to receive funding for this historic initiative. The bipartisan infrastructure law also includes provisions the lawmakers advocated for to bolster local hire programs that would allow state and local governments to use targeted hiring to connect local workers and businesses – especially in disadvantaged and underrepresented communities – to new opportunities on federally-funded transportation infrastructure projects, including those supported by the Reconnecting Communities Program like The City of Syracuse’s Reconnecting a Post I-81 Viaduct Syracuse project. The local hire provisions will ensure additional steps are taken to provide high-quality job and business opportunities to residents of communities negatively impacted by past infrastructure investments.


Schumer and Gillibrand led the introduction of the Reconnecting Communities Act in 2021. Local hire and federal resources to rebuild local communities were also central provisions of the Economic Justice Act, legislation that Schumer and Gillibrand introduced in 2020 to invest more than $435 billion to address systemic racism and underinvestment in communities of color.


“When the I-81 viaduct was built through the center of our community it created a physical barrier that disconnected people from opportunity. As we prepare to replace that highway with a community grid, we have a chance to redevelop an entire corridor through our city with an inclusive approach to development that reflects our values and aspirations. We thank Senators Shumer and Gillibrand for their vision, commitment and leadership. Together they are helping to ensure Syracuse has the resources it needs to right this wrong and become a national model for how we utilize transportation projects to reconnect and rebuild communities, ” said Rob Simpson, president, CenterState CEO.


“The Reconnecting Communities project will allow greater access to our public transportation system and our future Bus Rapid Transit project which will connect communities currently separated by the I-81 viaduct.  This paves the way for better community access to jobs, healthcare and all the transportation needs of city residents,” said Brian Schultz, CEO Centro.


We are so pleased to partner with the City of Syracuse on this important planning project. Thank you to our Congressional leaders for their support and congratulations to Mayor Walsh and his team for securing this important funding. We are absolutely thrilled that the City has been awarded this grant to help support our collective efforts to improve access and movement of cars, bikes and pedestrians, increase property value, and in general ensure that the benefits of the I81 project moving forward expand beyond I81 corridor,” said Joanie Mahoney, President, ESF.


“It’s great to learn of the Reconnecting Communities Grant being awarded to Syracuse. As we work to address poverty and inequity in our city, taking down 81 is a great initial step, but there is still a lot of other work that needs to be done to help us address these problems. This grant will help increase connectivity to jobs and opportunities for the folks in this corridor, and we appreciate the work Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are doing to keep the progress and momentum up, moving our region forward,”  said Raquan Pride, Executive Director, Blueprint 15.