Ground Officially Broken on the Transformational I-81 Viaduct Project

Published on July 21, 2023

The below press release was prepared by the Office of the New York State Governor Kathy Hochul. It can be found on the Governor's website here


Groundbreaking Held For $2.25 Billion Project That Will Build the Community Grid to Improve Mobility and Reconnect Downtown Neighborhoods

$296.4 Million Already Awarded Under Contract 1; Initial Work Includes Reconstruction of I-81/I-481 Northern Interchange

$384.5 Million Contract 2 Awarded This Week to Begin Conversion of the Southern Interchange of I-481/I-81

Start of Work Comes After More than a Decade of Planning and Community Engagement by the Department of Transportation

New Project Logo Available Here


Governor Kathy Hochul today joined federal, state, and local officials to officially break ground on the transformational Interstate 81 Viaduct Project in Syracuse, formally launching 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 and correct an enduring injustice that has disproportionately impacted residents of color in the City of Syracuse for decades. The historic project, which is the result of more than a decade of planning and community engagement, will also create a new Business Loop 81, which 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.

"New York is the only state that has boldly embraced the urgent need to reconnect communities with a historic five simultaneous mega projects that will right the wrongs of the past," Governor Hochul said. "As a central part of our efforts, the Interstate 81 Viaduct Project will serve as a national example of how thoughtful infrastructure can bring people together, promote growth, and increase prosperity for all communities. With this groundbreaking, we are beginning to weave back together the neighborhoods that were torn apart decades ago - healing the wounds that have festered for far too long and creating more livable, affordable, and sustainable communities."  

Senator Chuck Schumer said, "Syracuse, put on your hard hats and get your shovels out, the transformation of I-81 begins today! Our infrastructure should connect, not divide our communities and the transformation of I-81 will lay the foundation for a brighter, more equitable future for all of Syracuse. When I led the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act to passage, I did so with projects like Syracuse's I-81 transformation as my north star. Now, with shovels officially in the ground the federal funding can start flowing, creating thousands of good paying union construction jobs, hired from here in the community, to reconnect Syracuse and bring more opportunity to residents across the city. I thank Governor Hochul and Mayor Walsh for their partnership and leadership on this vital effort."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said, "After years of relentless advocacy, I'm so excited to finally see the groundbreaking of the I-81 project. This will be transformative for the City of Syracuse and the region as a whole. I am proud to have fought to secure longtime priorities of mine in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to provide the resources needed to help revitalize and reconnect Syracuse, and I will keep working to see this project through."

Senior Advisor to President Biden and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu said, "I-81's construction created an unjust and longstanding barrier to healthcare, economic and educational opportunities for families in Syracuse. Now, thanks to funding from President Biden's Investing in America agenda, we're these righting these wrongs of the past, improving safety, revitalizing the area for economic development, and creating good-paying union jobs that can support a family. As we work together with Governor Hochul and federal, state and local leaders to rebuild our infrastructure better than ever before, we are ensuring a safer, more equitable future for communities across New York."

The innovative I-81 Viaduct Project is part of Governor Hochul's unprecedented commitment to modernize New York State's infrastructure and invest in projects that promote equity, connectivity, and multi-modal transportation opportunities for communities across the state in partnership with the federal government. The $32.8 billion State Capital Plan adopted in 2022 helps fulfill the governor's vision for a modern transportation system that serves New Yorkers across the state, and the I-81 Viaduct Project will be funded with a mix of federal and state resources. Since the beginning of her time in office, Governor Hochul has made reconnecting communities through infrastructure a hallmark of her Administration, with more than $3 billion allocated in the Department of Transportation's capital plan to transform such areas in East Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and the South Bronx. 

Through the construction of the Community Grid, the project aims to reverse the ill-considered decision made in the 1950s to build the viaduct through the heart of Syracuse. The Community Grid will reconnect neighborhoods, 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 Community Grid design will reconnect neighborhoods that have been separated since the viaduct's construction. The project will upgrade a portion of Interstate 481, which would be re-designated as I-81, and construct the new Business Loop 81 along Almond Street to improve connections to downtown and other business districts.

The project also includes improvements to the sewer and stormwater management system that will reduce runoff and help prevent overflows during heavy rains that threaten the water quality of Onondaga Creek and Onondaga Lake.

Additional project features include:  

  • 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

Major construction is now underway on the first of multiple contracts planned for the project. Work on Contract 1 consists of reconstructing the existing Interstate 481/I-81 northern interchange to the re-designated I-81 and Business Loop 81, while also converting portions of I-481 to the new I-81 and making several road and bridge improvements along the corridor.

Contract 2, which was awarded this week, will begin the conversion of the southern interchange of I-481/I-81. Together these two contracts are essential to maintaining a high speed interstate connection with national and international north-south trade routes from Tennessee to the Canadian border.

The first phase of the I-81 Viaduct Project will create gateways to the Community Grid and will relieve existing traffic congestion issues in the city and improve access to and from the interstate highway network and such key destinations as 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.

As construction proceeds, NYSDOT will continue to engage the community and keep stakeholders informed of developments in soon-to-be opened community outreach centers on the north and south sides of the City of Syracuse. Some of the features visitors can expect when visiting the outreach centers are face to face interactions with an I-81 Viaduct Project representative, visuals of renderings associated with the project, and information on how to work on the project as a construction worker or as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. 

Residents will also soon be able to receive updates and interact with the I-81 Team on soon-to-be-created I-81 social media platforms on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The I-81 Viaduct Project website will continue to provide the public with information on construction, travel advisories, community outreach, and more. Followers will experience real time notifications on road closures and detours, informative interviews, and exclusive videos and pictures.

A bold new logo has also been created depicting the core principals and features of the project and the Community Grid - livability, connectivity, Business Loop 81 and high-speed traffic on Interstate 81 - combined with the skyline of the City of Syracuse.  The new logo will be used in all communications and community engagement going forward.

In alliance with community partners, the New York State Department of Transportation is collaborating with employment groups, including Pathways to Apprenticeship, WorkSmartNY Syracuse Build, the Urban Jobs Task Force, CNY Works, and New York State Department of Labor's Workforce Forward: Syracuse, to recruit and train those who are interested in working on the project. NYSDOT, in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration and the City of Syracuse, developed one of the first local-hire provisions approved under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to incentivize hiring local residents from zip codes in disadvantaged communities at a prevailing wage.

Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt said, "President Biden's Investing in America agenda is making historic investments in our nation's infrastructure - in New York and all across the country - to reconnect communities, improve safety, and provide better travel options that meet the needs of local residents and connect them to opportunities for decades to come. We are proud to invest in the success of this project that will create thousands of new construction jobs and drive transformational change for communities in and around Syracuse."

New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, "Since day one in office, the Governor has been laser focused on getting this project done, and today her vision has become a reality.  So get ready, Syracuse, because your transportation transformation starts today. The curtain is closing on outdated infrastructure that divides communities and the door is opening to a 21st Century transportation network that fosters improved livability, economic vitality, and sustainability for all the communities of Central New York. This once-in-a-lifetime transportation investment project will provide new opportunities for growth, jobs and economic development throughout the entire Region - investing in people and positively lifting the community for generations to come. We are so excited that this day has finally come and all of us at DOT are committed to fulfilling the community's vision of this project's awesome potential."

State Senator Rachel May said, "The I-81 project has been the largest question of Syracuse's future for more than a decade, and so I am thrilled to see today's groundbreaking. This is one of the most extensive infrastructure projects in our state's history and will help right some of the injustices caused by the elevated roadway that decimated Black neighborhoods and segregated Syracuse. With the new community grid, we can move toward Syracuse's bright future together as one city. As the project progresses, we must reinvest in our community and ensure that many of the people who have been negatively impacted by the presence of this highway can reap the benefits of the project's high-quality jobs. Thank you to Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand for your hard work at the federal level, Governor Hochul for your leadership, and my colleagues for your support at the state level." 

State Senator John W. Mannion said, "The Syracuse and Central New York renaissance continues with the groundbreaking and reconstruction of I-81 - one of the largest infrastructure projects currently underway in the United States. This massive undertaking will correct historic injustices, reconnect downtown neighborhoods, and open up new areas for investment and redevelopment while improving safety and mobility. I am confident that this project will serve as a national example of how well-planned infrastructure can bring people together and promote growth."

Assemblymember Pam Hunter said, "Today's groundbreaking is one step closer on the project to replace the I-81 viaduct with a community grid. The federal and state governments are committed to writing the historical wrongs of erecting infrastructure that divides our communities and leaves them disadvantaged. This project will bring new opportunities to our neighborhoods and create cohesion where there was once a divider."

Assemblymember Al Stirpe said, "The I-81 Viaduct groundbreaking is a historic milestone for our beloved Central New York communities! Having been a longtime supporter of the community grid plan, I'm thrilled to see this long awaited project officially underway. This investment will not only improve the existing highway infrastructure system and bolster pedestrian and roadway safety, but it will positively impact our local neighborhoods' resiliency and economy. I thank our federal and regional partners for supporting and investing in this next chapter for the City of Syracuse and our surrounding towns."

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said, "Breaking ground on the Interstate 81 Project is a victory for the people of Syracuse and all of Central New York. The Community Grid will help address the harmful impact of the 81 viaduct on city residents that has persisted for more than half a century. It will also improve transportation and mobility and create jobs and opportunity for people in the City of Syracuse and the region. I thank Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Schumer, Senator Gillibrand and the Biden Administration for their support of the project."