SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — He’s heard about it as long as he’s been in the job, but Tuesday, United States Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg saw the Interstate 81 viaduct for the first time.
Hosted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Buttigieg got a personal presentation from State DOT engineers of their plan to replace the I-81 viaduct with a grid of ground-level streets and reroute high-speed traffic to I-481.
In his only television interview, Secretary Buttigieg said, “You can tell a lot of variations and alternatives have been considered, which has been important. I learned as mayor that you come in on day one and might have it all figured out, you have the right answer, perfect solution, but it’s better when you hear new ideas, have that push and pull that’s a natural part of the process.”
After his private meeting, Buttigieg stood outside the viaduct to tout President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill and the benefits it might have on the I-81 project.
To the excited group that welcomed him to Syracuse, Buttigieg said about I-81: “The planners behind it also made choices that often routed highways through black and brown neighborhoods, doing lasting damage.”
Leaders outside of the city worry the damage will shift to their suburban communities. They’ve constantly complained about not having their opinion heard.
DeWitt worries about more traffic on I-481 through its neighborhoods and exiting traffic onto local streets. Salina fears its businesses, built along I-81, will fail without customer traffic. People in Skaneateles worry about more truck traffic.
When asked how the federal government could help whichever neighborhoods negatively impacted by the redesign, Buttigieg said, “Often, there are resources to make sure if there is an impact, it can be cushioned in a different way. Those are conversations we’re happy to have.”
Buttegieg would not say what specific businesses or projects he envisions in the real estate gained from the viaduct’s destruction.
“That’s not my job, from Washington, to decide,” says Buttigieg. “I am looking forward to creative community ideas and hopefully a way to make sure the benefit to everyone in the area is maximized.”