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Auburn forum highlights I-81 project — and need to move forward

CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson remembers the first conversations about the future of the Interstate 81 viaduct. The discussions were a decade ago.

Simpson has seen other communities advance significant infrastructure projects while Syracuse and central New York continue to debate the fate of I-81.

“Meanwhile, we have remained polarized and stuck,” Simpson said during the Wednesday Morning Roundtable at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn.

The hour-long discussion highlighted those divisions. The panelists included Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, a supporter of the community grid option to replace the viaduct, and Owasco Supervisor Ed Wagner, a proponent of a combined grid-tunnel option.

Simpson and CenterState CEO advocate for what’s called the “Community Grid Plus.” It’s the grid with some mitigation measures to address concerns from the business community and residents.

The I-81 viaduct reached the end of its useful life in 2017. The state Department of Transportation is finalizing a draft environmental impact statement examining three alternatives for replacing the elevated highway: Demolishing the viaduct and replacing it with a street-level grid, rebuilding the viaduct or removing the viaduct and installing a tunnel.

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