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Overnight parking ban coming to part of Genesee Street in Auburn

Auburnians can expect to see some changes to on-street parking on a portion of Genesee Street in the coming weeks. 

From 3 to 6 a.m., parking on Genesee Street from James Street to John Street will be prohibited. The current overnight parking ban downtown bars parking from 3 to 7 a.m. on Genesee Street from Dill Street to Loop Road.  

The change in parking is a response to complaints from some Genesee Street businesses about lack of parking for customers due to downtown residents leaving their cars parked on the street for extended periods of time. The new parking ban will also make it easier for the Department of Public Works to plow Genesee Street during the winter. The plan was first discussed during a September Auburn City Council meeting.  

City Manager Jeff Dygert said the ban will be temporary at first. Section 1602 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law allows for the "chief executive" of a city to enact temporary parking bans "in order to remove snow or to plow streets, provided that signs or markings giving notice are posted."

City council members wanted the change to be in place before snow begins to fall. However, the process of officially updating the city's vehicle and traffic law will not be completed until January, Dygert said, which is why he has opted for the temporary measure.

The temporary ban will not go into effect for another week or two, Dygert said, as the city is still "working out the details" and waiting for signs to come in. Once the signs are in, Dygert said a notice of the parking change will be posted on the city's website and social media accounts. 

Dygert is working with the Auburn Police Department's Traffic Coordinator Officer Greg Gilfus on the parking ban. 

Gilfus said once the signs are in place, there will be a two-week warning period where officers will issue warnings instead of parking tickets to give people time to get used to the change. 

"This initial period will be a good time for us to evaluate and see if we need to make any changes or keep it the way it is," Gilfus said.

Initially, Councilor Dia Carabajal said she had concerns that the parking ban could prompt intoxicated individuals who park on Genesee Street to move their cars while they've been drinking to avoid getting a ticket. 

She said she is no longer concerned about that because there are other options for people who have been drinking downtown to leave their vehicles overnight, including the Lincoln Street parking garage and Dill Street parking lot. 

Downtown Business Improvement District Director Stephanie DeVito said she thinks the new parking measure will benefit downtown businesses. 

"It's going to be a great thing to implement in the downtown," DeVito said. "Downtown is really transitioning to be bigger and better every day. We do whatever we can to help businesses."

Thruway westbound lanes open but traffic slow after Mentz truck fire

A tractor-trailer fire closed down the westbound lanes of the state Thruway between exits 40 and 41 on Monday.

New York State Police said the call came in at 10:57 a.m. The fire was located in the town of Mentz, about four miles of exit 40 in Weedsport. The Colucci Transportation tractor-trailer was hauling trash, state police said, and was still on fire as of about 11:20 a.m. The truck was located on the right shoulder of the Thruway.

All lanes of traffic were closed down for about an hour. According to the state Thruway's website, the left lane was opened around noon and then both lanes were open by about 1:15 p.m. The Thruway Authority was warning motorists to expect delays even after both lanes reopened.

According to 911 dispatch radio reports, Weedsport, Port Byron, Lafayette, Elbridge and Jordan fire departments were called to the scene. State police said there were no injuries. The cause of the fire is unknown. 

Gallery: Tractor trailer fire closes Thruway westbound in Mentz

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Vendors show off work at Cayuga Community College's 44th annual Holiday Craft Fair

AUBURN — Anne Clapper has been recognized in public as "The Potholder Lady." 

What started out as a hobby 20 years ago to keep busy after having surgery has evolved into a successful small business. 

The Auburn woman began making her own potholders after back surgery left her unable to work. Since then, she has sewn thousands of potholders — over 2,000 a year — and has sold them across the country. 

Clapper said been selling her homemade potholders at Cayuga Community College's annual Holiday Craft Fair for about 10 years. 

"I've created a monster," Clapper joked of her small business Sunday afternoon behind her booth in the Spartan Hall gym. 

Clapper, wearing a Christmas hat and Grinch-printed shirt, said it only takes her about 15 minutes to sew each set of two potholders, but hours of prep work go into making each one, from shopping for fabric at Spring Lake Fabrics, to measuring the fill and cutting the loops. She brought over 900 of her custom potholders with her, in patterns that feature flowers, dogs and cats, insects and chickens and popular sports teams. 

She said she likes coming to the Holiday Craft Fair because of the atmosphere. 

"I like to meet the people," she said. "I have people that look for me every year. I enjoy it."  

Pam Heleen, who took over organizing the fair this year, said the atmosphere is what makes the event special. 

"It's a big family event," Heleen said. "We see relatives, extended families, crafters who have been next to each other for years — this is their time to get back together. This is their holiday." 

Heleen, who works as the executive assistant to college President Brian Durant, expressed her gratitude for the staff, students and volunteers who helped make the 44th annual craft fair a success. She said she plans to gather suggestions from vendors to improve the fair next year. 

Nearly 150 vendors from 56 cities and towns sold their homemade crafts — from jewelry and art to baked goods and holiday decorations — during the two-day craft fair.

Barb Dart, of Barb and Deb's Gourmet Cupcakes, sold a variety of cupcakes in flavors such as lemon, orange and espresso, as well as a variety of other baked goods. Her fifth year at the craft fair, Dart said it is the biggest event she and her partner attend. 

"We like coming to the fair every year because it's a chance to meet new people and see old friends," Dart said.

She said this was the first year they set up a kids table where children could decorate their own cupcake or cookie. 

Uli Ethridge, a crafter from Baldwinsville, designs jewelry made from bullets and shell casings.

She started out designing beaded jewelry as a way to raise money for the American Heart Association. She said she enjoyed making the jewelry and began selling her creations at craft shows. Then one day, she found a box of shell casings that her husband, a firearms instructor, was going to throw away. 

"I said, 'Don't throw them out. They're shiny, I want them,'" Ethridge said. 

She then began incorporating the bullets and shell casings into her designs. She bought a micro-engraver at a craft store so she could etch patterns onto the bullets. Some of her work features simple swirls or lines, while others have detailed horses or birds etched into them. 

Ethridge said this is her third year at the Holiday Craft Fair and she finds that many people are interested by her unique items. 

"That's one of the reasons I've stuck with it," she said. "There's a ton of different jewelry out there and I enjoy making this type of jewelry."  

I-81 study: Tunnel 'technically feasible,' but would cost at least $3B

An independent study released by the state Department of Transportation Monday found a tunnel could replace the elevated portion of Interstate 81 in Syracuse, but it will cost significantly more than installing a boulevard or rebuilding the existing viaduct. 

WSP, an internationally-renowned engineering consulting firm, examined seven potential tunnel options before narrowing the list to four of the most feasible projects. Depending on the project, the tunnel would range in length from 1.2 miles to 2.6 miles. The 1.2-mile tunnel would have the lowest price tag — $3 billion for a nine-year construction project. The 2.6-mile option would cost $4.5 billion and take 10 years to build. 

Each of the tunnel alternatives considered by WSP would require street-level improvements, according to the study. 

The firm concluded the best tunnel option was a $3.6 billion option — known as the "Orange Alternative" — that would take nine years to build. It would be positioned west of the current I-81 viaduct and maintain the ability to connect to Interstate 690 from I-81. To build the tunnel outlined in this proposal, it would require the acquisition of 22 properties in the city. 

"We thank WSP for conducting this thorough study related to tunnel and depressed highway options, which will guide our decision-making process as plans for I-81 are considered," said Paul Karas, the state's acting transportation commissioner. 

The study was ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year. He wanted a review of five alternatives: A boulevard option; a tunnel; a depressed highway; a hybrid community grid-tunnel; and a depressed highway-community grid hybrid. 

WSP did review options for a depressed highway to replace the I-81 viaduct, but found numerous challenges with each alternative. One problem was finding a way to establish a connection between I-81 as a depressed highway and I-690, which is not. The firm considered putting both highways underground, but determined having an underground interchange would pose construction issues and raise the price of the overall project. 

The depressed highway alternatives were viewed as "detrimental to the city," according to WSP's report. They believe any of the options would divide neighborhoods and close off local streets. None of the depressed highway options were recommended to the state Department of Transportation.

WSP didn't examine options already reviewed by the department, including rebuilding the viaduct or removing the elevated highway and replacing it with a boulevard. The boulevard, known as the "community grid" option, would cost $1.3 billion. Rebuilding the viaduct would cost $1.7 billion. 

Save81, a group of business and community leaders that supports maintaining I-81 in its current alignment, said in a statement Monday that it is "pleased" the independent analysis determined the feasibility of some tunnel alternatives. 

"The continued operation of the I-81 corridor is vital to the economic stability of our region," the group said. "We look forward to reading the report when it is made available." 

The state will make a decision on the project in the coming weeks. It's possible that the future of the I-81 viaduct will be revealed in early 2018, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveils his budget proposal and legislative agenda for the upcoming fiscal year.