U.S. Rep. John Katko will kick off a series of town hall meetings on the Interstate 81 project in Syracuse with a pair of forums next week in Auburn and the town of DeWitt.
Katko, R-Camillus, will hold a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4 in the student lounge at Cayuga Community College, 197 Franklin St., Auburn. The forum's moderator will be Steve Lynch, director of planning and economic development for Cayuga County.
Another forum is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9 at DeWitt Town Hall, 5400 Butternut Dr., East Syracuse. The event will be held in the court room. The moderator will be DeWitt Councilor Kerry Mannion.
"Our community has a once-in-a-generation decision before us as we look to the future of Interstate 81," Katko said in a statement. "This decision impacts not only the city of Syracuse, but the towns and villages that surround it and rely on I-81."
Other Interstate 81-focused town hall meetings are planned for February, according to Katko's office. They are finalizing details for forums in Salina and Syracuse.
Representatives from the Federal Highway Administration and the state Department of Transportation have been invited to attend the town hall meetings.
There are ongoing discussions about how to best replace the I-81 viaduct that stretches through Syracuse. The viaduct reached the end of its useful life in 2017. A few proposals are under consideration, including replacing the viaduct with a street-level community grid, rebuilding the elevated portion of the highway or constructing a tunnel.
Several Syracuse officials support the street-level grid. But there is opposition to that proposal outside of the city because of fears it may increase truck traffic on rural roads.
Katko, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has expressed concern about the potential impacts of the grid. However, he hasn't taken a position on any of the proposals. He has said the community should decide which is the best option.
"I have always stated I will stand firmly behind the decision of our community and support it on the federal level," Katko said. "That's why I'm looking forward to engaging with folks throughout central New York in a series of open town hall meetings focused on this important issue."
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the new timeline for the I-81 project. A draft environmental impact statement will be available early this year. The state Department of Transportation said the draft will include a "preferred alternative" for the I-81 project.
The draft environmental impact statement will be reviewed by the Federal highway Administration and other relevant agencies. The state plans to distribute the report for public comment and hold a public hearing this summer.
Once the public comment period is completed, the state will choose the alternative and submit the final environmental impact statement for federal approval in 2020.