July 26, 2013

I-81 News and Updates for July '13

Some recent news bits and thoughts about where we stand in the I-81 discussion...

- State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald unexpectedly pulled a request to spend $32 million plan in studying the environmental and engineering impacts for the future of I-81.

Apparently the plan was set to go ahead (and the SMTC fully expected it to begin), but was questioned by Kathleen Rapp, chair of the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board who oversaw the meeting. You may remember Rapp as one of the county legislators who unanimously voted that the state rebuild I-81 as an elevated highway.

- Sen. Charles Schumer says, "I would not tell people think small. I'd say come up with what you think is best and then we would try to get the funding."

Nothing overly newsworthy. It's a fairly even-keeled comment and shows we still have a long way to go.

- Owasco residents are concerned about increased truck traffic in the event of an I-81 boulevard through Downtown Syracuse.

Personally, I think this issue should hold very little (if any) merit in the discussion because of its distant proximity to the subject at hand, its lack of immediate social impact, and for just being plain bogus and insignificant.

- Earlier this month, the State DOT asked for public input on I-81 based on the SMTC analysis. For what it's worth, I sent the following E-mail to them.

To New York State Department of Transportation,

My name is Josef Lorenz. I'm a 6-year resident of Downtown Syracuse and am vehemently opposed to re-building an elevated highway through the city.

As it stands, Interstate 81 severs two key areas within Syracuse: University Hill, which contains two of the region's biggest economic engines (Syracuse University and the medical centers), and Downtown Syracuse, the city's epicenter, cultural hub, and fastest growing neighborhood. If we want to continue the positive growth from these neighborhoods seen over the last several years and not dampen their potential space for further growth, the state should be doing everything in its power to encourage these two areas to intertwine and mesh together as much as possible; something an elevated highway currently prohibits.

The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council did an outstanding analysis of the possible options for I-81 which provided comprehensive details in regards to cost estimates, transportation benefits, environmental effects, social and quality of life factors, and economic competitiveness; all of which clearly pointed to a boulevard being a far better option for the surrounding neighborhoods and for the community as a whole.

In addition to the analysis done by the SMTC, the state should also be looking at recent city and nation-wide trends...

 - A 25% growth in residency within Downtown Syracuse over the last 5 years that shows no signs of decline.
 - The potential higher maintenance costs of an elevated highway and what that burden would put on future budgets.
 - How the removal of highways in other downtowns around the nation has resulted in increased real estate values to the immediate areas (something the city of Syracuse desperately needs).
 - Air quality for those who have to interact with and live next to an elevated highway is poor and often includes higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
 - Younger generations are currently driving less than previous generations, a reversal in trends for the first time in 60 years.

Given these factors which provide in great detail the negative consequences of rebuilding an elevated highway, I urge the state to consider a boulevard an an option for I-81 through Downtown Syracuse; a decision that will be beneficial not just for the community right now, but for the betterment of the community 50 years from now.

Thank you for your time and best of luck with the planning process.

And lastly, there has been a lot of construction on the highways in and around Syracuse which is causing some summer traffic issues - mainly during rush-hours. Many commenters on Syracuse.com seem to have this fearful notion that this is what would happen if the elevated highway is removed through Downtown, a perspective that I wholeheartedly disagree with.

We have yet to find out exactly what we'll have to work with and how that plan will operate in full detail. It's very possible we have different on and off ramps, different light timings, more lanes, no one-way streets, or even (dare I say) a better overall flow of traffic than what we have in 2013. Anything is really possible at this point. To suggest that this is how things will look in 10 years or to use this construction season as a threat is completely premature and fairly irrelevant.

July 5, 2013

All Hail The Car (Re: "A point-by-point look at the I-81 alternatives: Commentary")

Minch Lewis, former Syracuse City Auditor and MDA Project Manager, recently wrote a commentary for the Post-Standard in regards to the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council's analysis of I-81 and how that summary provided mixed signals to the public.

While I strongly disagree that the SMTC’s analysis provided little if any mixed signals, Mr. Lewis is certainly entitled to his opinion. However, his arguments, which favored rebuilding I-81 through Downtown Syracuse, consisted of vague points, random figures, irrelevant references to city life from 40 years ago, and used poor examples in supporting his case.

Mind you, this was not an article per-se, but more of a largely worded opinion piece which was printed by the Post-Standard. I understand that the main media outlet in the region is doing its best job (and they have for the most part) to provide a wide range of opinions about I-81 as this is a major decision that will have drastic consequences in either case of a rebuild or boulevard. My concern is when these opinion pieces are filled with very little facts or thoughtful dialogue, such as the one written by Mr. Lewis.

You can find the entire piece here. There's quite a bit to get into, so I'll do more of a response to the individual sentences and paragraphs.