Blog thread of the year: Sean Kirst’s Wednesday column and blog post on the “Tear Down 81” movement, which (as of this writing) has attracted over fifty responses. It’s good to see that the conversation has advanced somewhat beyond the “Tear it down!” “Aw, you’re crazy!” stage and that there are more shades of gray being brought to the table now. (If you crave hard background information about the history of I-81’s presence in downtown Syracuse, don’t miss this thesis by Aaron Knight.)
There are a lot of “You’re crazy!” responses in that comments thread, but that’s to be expected. (One could point out that the residents of the 15th Ward probably would have appreciated an online forum in which to have posted their dismay at the concept of 81 slicing through their neighborhood, but there was no Internet back in the Sixties, and certainly wouldn’t have been for “folks like them.”)
Resisting making any changes to 81’s route is one thing. But what’s a little troubling to me is how many people are openly wishing for an 81-like bypass to cut from Camillus through Syracuse’s western neighborhoods. This sort of talk makes me want to surreptitiously delete every post in which I ever mentioned the Phantom Bypass… I don’t want them to find out there were plans for that, and what’s worse, that the Offramp to Nowhere still physically exists. At the very least — even if 81 never gets moved — please God, let’s make sure we at least kill all talk of another neighborhood-destroying bypass in the greater Syracuse area, now and for all time.
The dissenters in the comment threads do make good points about this being fundamentally about the plans and strategies of the high and the mighty… which is what it was about back in the Sixties, too. Once again, I direct you to any Google map of the greater Syracuse area and invite you to look at the curiously intact expanse that is the Syracuse metro area’s southwest quadrant. The open range. No bypasses. Mostly unsliced (although there is a railroad in the way). Many of the current initiatives are already taking place in this sector.
The big dream is to take 81 down — or rather, move it — and unite the University hill with greater Syracuse. It makes sense. But can it happen? And if it doesn’t happen — if that gambit fails and 81 remains immovable in this generation — what happens next? Does the theater of this drama shift? Is there another, more geographically fortunate institution on that map that will have a chance to step up to the plate?