Business Loop 81

A map shows the new Interstate 81 and the Business Loop 81 that would be created under the community grid alternative. 

It would no longer be Interstate 81, but the proposed community grid in Syracuse would maintain its link to the highway. 

The state Department of Transportation's draft environmental impact statement details how the existing path of I-81 through Syracuse would be re-classified as a business loop. An unofficial list of business routes in the U.S. suggests "BL 81" would be the first of its kind in New York. 

The business loop is a new feature of the community grid. It wasn't part of earlier descriptions of the grid alternative. But the addition of the designation is viewed as an acknowledgment that the demolition of the I-81 viaduct will affect businesses in the city and in nearby suburbs. 

Under the community grid proposal, Interstate 481 would be re-designated as I-81. The new I-81 would be the recommended route for through traffic. Following the existing I-481 path, traffic would bypass Syracuse before connecting with I-81 north or south of the city. 

Between the I-81 and I-481 interchanges is where the business loop would be established. According to the draft environmental impact statement, Business Loop 81 would be a limited access highway from the southern interchange with the new I-81 to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. East. 

North of the city, the loop would be a limited access highway from Interstate 690 to northern interchange with the new I-81. 

Within the city, the business loop would include Almond Street, Erie Boulevard between Almond Street and Oswego Boulevard, Pearl Street between Erie Boulevard and the northbound Pearl Street on-ramp and Oswego Boulevard between Erie Boulevard and East Willow Street. 

Almond Street is a major focal point of the community grid alternative. The I-81 viaduct is above Almond Street. Under the grid proposal, Almond Street would be improved to feature two lanes in each direction, bicycle lanes and turning lanes at some intersections. 

There would be significant differences between I-81 now and the business loop. The speed limit would be lowered from 55 to 30 mph because traffic would be using city streets instead of an interstate highway. And instead of the federal interstate designation, the business loop would become a state roadway. 

The state DOT said the community grid would require five years to build and the project would cost an estimated $1.9 billion. While it's the likely option for the future of I-81, it hasn't been finalized.  

A 45-day public comment period will allow central New Yorkers to provide feedback on the draft environmental impact statement. The DOT plans to hold a public information session and hearings on the study. 

After gathering input from the public, the DOT will prepare the final environmental impact statement. Once the agency distributes the final environmental impact statement, the Federal Highway Administration and state transportation officials will issue a record of decision. The record of decision is needed before construction commences. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.