Getting Around Without 81

Travel in and around Central New York while avoiding Route 81 through Downtown Syracuse

What is I-81?

Interstate 81 runs from the Canadian border south to Tennesee. The highways was largely built in the 1950s and 1960s and has now reached the end of its useful life. One specific section, a 1.4 mile viaduct that cuts directly through the City of Syracuse, NY, is quickly deteriorating and does not meet current highway standards, resulting in safety concerns.

The problem

The problems surrounding I-81 leave New York State's Department of Transportation with a decision to make: what should be done with the highway? In the past several years, discussions have started about potential options - and three have risen to the top:

  • Rebuild - With some changes to bring the highway up to current standards, the viaduct would be replaced, still cutting through the city.
  • Boulevard - Tear down the 1.4 mile section of I-81 and replace with a street-level boulevard. To bypass the city on the highway, vehicles would be routed to I-481 which circles around the city.
  • Dig - Create an underground highway to replace the viaduct. Though this option is still in the mix, it is widely thought to be too expensive to work.

The arguments

For a good primer on the arguments, click here.

Proposal For Against
Rebuild Fixing the highway would allow commuters to maintain the same route as before. The highway cuts through the city, and there are arguments that it segregates the city, with negative impacts.
Boulevard Eliminate the highway that splits the city in half and repurpose the land below to build businesses and make the city more walkable. Commuters would need to find new routes into, out of, and through the city, which could result in longer travel times.
Dig Gain access to the space below the existing highway while still maintaining a highway the cuts through the city. Expensive and disruptive during construction.

What does this website do?

This site aims to show what the experience for drivers would look like with the two most likely outcomes for I-81: rebuilding or boulevard. Using the Mapquest directions API, users can find out how long their commute would be if I-81 was rebuilt versus is I-81 were torn down. There are limitations with this analysis because traffic patterns would be different if a boulevard were built. Despite any limitations, though, this tool will be useful in giving persepctive about what travel might look like in Syracuse by the end of the decade.

Press Coverage

Check out press coverage of this website on and TWCNY News.

Want to learn more about getting around without 81?

This site doesn't calculate every possible route between two locations. If you're Interested in traveing witout 81, explore more routes on Mapquest.