In July 2023, the official groundbreaking for the transformational Interstate 81 Viaduct Project in Syracuse, took place. The groundbreaking formally launched one of the largest and most ambitious construction projects ever undertaken by New York State, in partnership with the federal government. Overseen by the State Department of Transportation, the $2.25 billion project will create a Community Grid to reconnect downtown neighborhoods severed by the I-81 viaduct’s construction in the 1950’s, enhance mobility and improve access to and from the interstate highway network and key destinations, including the downtown business districts, area hospitals and Syracuse University. It will also provide safe and ADA accessible pedestrian and bicycle amenities throughout the project area.
The historic project, which is the result of more than a decade of planning and community engagement, will also upgrade a portion of Interstate 481, which would be redesignated at I-81, and create a new Business Loop 81. Business Loop 81 will pass through the city distributing traffic along the way, and make other improvements that will improve mobility, enhance safety, create new recreational opportunities and promote economic growth throughout all of Central New York.
Watts is providing environmental assessment services and detailed studies for the New York State Department of Transportation for Preliminary Design Services for this major roadway and bridge corridor reconstruction project located in Onondaga County with a design fee of $30 million. The environmental work will be presented in an Environmental Impact Statement submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Watts’ work to date included asbestos surveys for 120 bridges and several buildings to be acquired to facilitate construction; noise measurements at 21 receptor locations and modeling of noise levels at approximately 2,500 locations; analysis of the construction detour impacts on noise levels; development of noise mitigation models; an assessment of lighting conditions for various roads; and the hazardous waste identification and assessment of hundreds of parcels located along 16 miles of interstate and dozens of city streets. After the validation modeling was completed, noise analysis was performed for the current year (for existing noise level comparison) and for the project’s highway design year which is 2050 (ETC+30). Traffic volumes, speeds and classifications for the existing and future peak noise hours were calculated based on the traffic model. The peak noise hour was selected based on the noisiest time of day/night as indicated by the results of the 24-hour field noise measurements.
The lighting assessment included the evaluation of existing lighting types and themes; development of project lighting goals and lighting schemes for highways, ramps and under bridges; assessment of area deficient lighting; and evaluation of special lighting needs.
Hazardous waste assessments were completed on project functional areas. Over 200 properties of potential environmental concern were identified. The surveyed areas included: Reconstruction of Almond Street; New Interchange on I-81 at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. East; I-81 Interchange 18 (Harrison/Adams Streets); I-81/I-690 Interchange and Associated Bridges/Ramps (3 sub-alternatives); Butternut Street Overpass; I-81 From Interchange 20 to 23; I-690 Interchange 13 (Townsend Street/Downtown Syracuse); Erie Street Overpass; I-81/I-481 South Interchange (Interchange 16A); I-81/I-481 North Interchange (Interchange 29); and I-490 (two segments).
Phase 1 is divided into 5 contracts and Phase 2 will have 3 additional contracts.
Additional project features include:
- Improvements to the sewer and stormwater management system to reduce runoff and help prevent overflows during heavy rains that threaten the water quality of Onondaga Creek and Onondaga Lake.
- Reconstruction of Almond Street nearly 13 miles of new or reconstructed sidewalks, two miles of new or reconstructed shared-use paths for bicycles and pedestrians, a 1-mile cycle track, and nearly two miles of new or reconstructed shared vehicle and bicycle lanes.
- A new full interchange on I-690 at Crouse and Irving Avenues to provide more direct connections to hospitals, employment centers and educational facilities on University Hill.
- A reconfigured I-690 West Street interchange.
- A new northbound off-ramp from Business Loop 81 to Colvin Street.
Bear Street improvements.
- A new third lane on I-481 northbound between I-690 and the NYS Thruway (Interstate 90); and an improved Exit 3