The Community Grid

By Carol Baum and Elaine Denton on


the community grid


The Community Grid


It's been 10 years since we started talking about replacing the I-81 viaduct. And over 50 years since Syracuse was decimated when the viaduct was first built through the heart of the city. It is time to reverse the high levels of racial and economic segregation this barrier has caused. It's time to reconnect Syracuse with the Community Grid.


Why Community Grid?

Inconveniencing people less, the Community Grid will take less time to build than the other options, taking a total of five years; the first two improving I-481 and I-90, and the last three removing and modifying city streets.


Fiscally responsible, this project will be funded by the people who live in the city, the county, the state and the nation, which makes the cost efficient Community Grid the most sensible option.


Enviromentally friendly, the Community Grid will reduce emissions and increase green space, decreasing health impacts from pollutants.


Strongest economic growth, creating a unique opportunity for inclusive development. This is what other forward-thinking cities have done—cities which are now thriving.


Organizing COMMUNITY for the GRID


PNL editorial committee members Carol Baum and Elaine Denton spoke with Joseph Driscoll, an organizer and Syracuse Common Councilor. What follows is adapted from that conversation.


Where are we currently with respect to the decision of which option will replace the I-81 viaduct through downtown Syracuse?

There are currently three options on the table—rebuilding the I-81 viaduct, the Community Grid and the tunnel. The State Department of Transportation (DOT) is working on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will compare the options with respect to environmental, economic and social implications. Originally the study did not include the tunnel, but it was included later due to pressure from elected officials, in particular State Senator DeFrancisco.


The release of the EIS is the next big step in the decision-making process. There isn't a definite release date yet, but it probably will be January or February, 2019—so very soon.


How will the decision get made?

Tons of money are at stake regarding which option is chosen as well as huge differences in impacts on people, so there are many complex interactions. How the final decision gets made is not transparent. Joe believes that the final decision will be made by the DOT, but the Governor will be very influential in what DOT eventually decides. Currently the DOT says they are listening to elected officials, and the elected officials say they are listening to DOT.


The main decision-making players are the public, elected officials and the DOT. But there is no formula as to how much each will influence the final decision. After the EIS is presented and public comments are made, local elected officials will be expected to weigh in. The governor will ask them what they think and what they are hearing.


One question is, as the constituency most directly impacted by the decision, will Syracusans' opinions have more weight than others, or will every part of the region have equal say? Some local officials feel that the temptation to make a city versus suburbs argument should be resisted; others argue that someone using I-81 to get from Syracuse University to a suburb as quickly as possible shouldn't have the same influence as someone living right next to it.


How can people have an mpact on the decision-making?

What Joe hears from elected officials is that they don't hear a unanimous voice from Syracusans. They are hearing from the Save I-81 people, but are not hearing from those supporting the Community Grid in the same way. They want to hear from people who have weighed the options and have come up with a conclusion.The Community Grid


Once the EIS comes out, the DOT will have at least 45 days for public comments. This will be a key period to show the strength of support for the Community Grid.


What groups are advocating for the community grid?

Community for the Grid (C4G) is a recently-formed umbrella group of community grid supporters. This include the CNY Solidarity Coalition, Moving People Transportation Coalition (connected with Alliance for Transforming Syracuse), Uplift Syracuse, National Action Network (NAN), ReThink 81, Northside Up, American Institute of Architects, Kids for the Grid, Suburbs for Grid, the Walsh Administration, Syracuse Common Council and members of the development community (these are people who have a wholistic vision of a reunited Syracuse—what that will do for community progress and economic growth).


What is the postcard campaign?

Community for the Grid is organizing a postcard campaign. The vision is to tangibly show Syracusans' support of the Community Grid, with tens of thousands of postcards. Four duplicate postcards will be sent, with one each to Gov. Cuomo, the signer's state assembly member and state senator, and the DOT.


To get the postcards out, many people will be needed to take them door-to-door, as well as bring them to public events and distribute them to groups.


What else will be needed?

A public awareness/educational campaign will be needed as a companion to the postcard campaign. This means:


Speakers and outreach

Social media content

Letters to the editor

Website and social media

Informational materials



To learn more about the community grid check out the ReThink 81 website at


To join the campaign go to


Let's build a stronger, unified Syracuse for everyone.