SYRACUSE — Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to take another look at options for the replacement of the Interstate 81 viaduct in Syracuse, including a tunnel.
Cuomo, who was in Syracuse Wednesday to deliver a regional State of the State address, announced that he has directed the state Department of Transportation to work with an independent firm and study alternatives for replacing the aging viaduct, which reaches the end of its useful life this year.
Five alternatives will be studied: A community grid, or boulevard option; a tunnel; a depressed highway; a combination of the community grid and tunnel; and a combined community grid and depressed highway.
Cuomo said the five options will be further studied to determine "what is most feasible and what does the most good and what is the most economic."
Once the study is complete, the report will be released to the public for review. The state will then make a decision about the future of I-81.
"It is complex. It is multi-faceted," Cuomo said during his presentation at Carrier Theater. "We want to make sure we look at it from all angles to make the best decision that we can. And we want to do some more study to make sure we have all the alternatives and the feasibility of all those alternatives."
The announcement by Cuomo represents a change in the DOT's plans for the I-81 project. The department had narrowed its options to two: The community grid, which would install a boulevard on Almond Street and make improvements to surrounding side streets, or rebuild the viaduct.
The department estimated that the community grid option would cost $1.3 billion, compared to $1.7 billion for the viaduct rebuild. The lower price tag for the community grid suggested that it was the favorite of the two alternatives.
But some elected officials in the region, including Owasco Supervisor Ed Wagner, raised concerns about how the community grid would impact truck traffic in his town. If a boulevard is installed, officials worry that tractor trailers will avoid I-81 and use local roads, such as Route 38A, to head west.
A group of central New York state legislators led by Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, recently organized a meeting and called for further review of a tunnel option for the I-81 project. State Sen. Jim Seward, whose district includes Owasco, also urged the state to revisit the tunnel alternative.
With Cuomo calling for the new study, Wagner is pleased.
"I think it's a fantastic opportunity for the people who supported more than the community grid," he said in a phone interview.
Of the five options now on the table, Wagner said he favors the combined community grid and tunnel.
"It gives everybody what they're looking for," he said. "It takes down that viaduct that's created an artificial divide in that community. It's going to foster economic development."
U.S. Rep. John Katko doesn't have a preference, but he did praise Cuomo for moving forward with the new study.
Katko, R-Camillus, serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and said he's advocated for a "comprehensive study of options" for the I-81 project before one of the alternatives is chosen.
"This project will impact our regional transportation infrastructure for generations to come, and it is critical that all options are carefully studied and that input is considered from all around our community," he said.
No timeline for the release of the study was provided by the governor. The environmental review was expected to be finished in 2017 and a decision on the I-81 project was due by the end of the year. Cuomo's office said the schedule for the review and decision won't change.