I81’s Environmental Impact

Last week, Onondaga’s Town Supervisors—a group of people without any governmental responsibility for the City—got together to again let everybody know that they would like for I81 to stay in the middle of Syracuse. They want that, in part, because they’re concerned about the ‘environmental impacts of removing the I81 viaduct.

On the face of it, that’s a stupid concern. The environment will be better off with one fewer piece of obsolete, overbuilt, car-only transportation infrastructure. Get rid of the viaduct, and there’s room for new housing within walking distance of major employers, making it more possible for more people to drive less.

But those supervisors were never really concerned about the environment. They’re concerned about upending the status quo where all of the County’s environmental problems get dumped in the City. Ed Michalenko doesn’t care that vehicular exhaust is giving kids asthma so long as those kids don’t live in DeWitt. Jim Lanning doesn’t care that trucks are driving through Onondaga County so long as they go through Syracuse instead of Skaneateles.

That’s the danger of shoving all of the County’s problems onto one communityit lets these suburban supervisors believe that if a problem doesn’t exist for them, then it doesn’t exist at all. It’s telling that their ‘compromise‘ for I81  is to bury it through the middle of Syracuse, as if putting those cars out of sight is the same thing as taking them off the road.

The only way that this project will do anything positive for the environment is if it makes Onondaga County into a place where fewer people have to drive to run every single errand. That’s the promise of the Grid—more walkable neighborhoods that can support better bus service, fewer miles of highway subsidizing and necessitating car ownership. That’s an environmental impact to be excited about, and by making car ownership less necessary in Onondaga County, it might just reduce the traffic in places like Skaneateles and DeWitt.