Despite its eye-catching price tag, a tunnel just might be the best option for replacing the decaying elevated portion of Interstate 81 in Syracuse.

There have been plenty of opinions about what should be done about the viaduct built in the 1950s and '60s. A year ago, the state Department of Transportation had recommended further study on two general ideas: redesigning the highway's path through the city or diverting highway traffic around Syracuse entirely.

Seven potential options involving tunnels were all dismissed over issues including construction time and cost.

And time and cost will certainly be factors. A engineering and consulting firm hired to study various tunnel options now says that the best alternative would take nine years to complete and cost about $3.6 billion.

Having said that, we believe that building a tunnel might be the best way to go, offering the best balance of keeping traffic moving unabated through the city while allowing local drivers better access to the streets — and businesses — above ground.

And it's far from just a Syracuse issue.

The DOT points out that I-81 serves "as a national and international north-south trade route from Tennessee to the Canadian border." As such, it has immeasurable impacts on the economic strength of Syracuse and the surrounding region.

And keeping the north-south flow of traffic moving through Syracuse is important to places like Cayuga County, too, because major changes to the current traffic pattern will increase the likelihood for truckers to choose alternative routes here, something our local infrastructure — and quality of life — can do without.

Yes, $3.6 billion is a lot of money, but the federal government can be expected to cover about 80 percent of it. The elevated I-81 has been around for 60 years. Its replacement needs to remain viable for at least that long. So it's important to get it right.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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