Central New York, Community

Interstate 81 Project Faces Significant Hurdle After Trump Releases Budget

NCC News' Chris Thomsen reports live from Interstate 81 in Syracuse, where any proposed solution is in trouble due to President Trump's proposal to slash the federal Highways Trust Fund by $122 billion over the next ten years.

By Chris Thomsen SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – As part of his $4.4 trillion budget plan that increases the federal government deficit, President Donald Trump intends to reduce the federal Highways Trust Fund by $122 billion over the next ten years.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) denounced the proposal, stating that it would destroy the feasibility of projects such as replacing the Interstate 81 corridor that runs through downtown Syracuse.

Current interstate highway projects are mainly covered by the federal government, who provides over 80 percent of the funding. This arrangement would change not only under Trump’s budget proposal but also due to his $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, which calls for local governments and private entities to pay for 80 percent of a project’s cost instead.

With Syracuse already facing a $25 million deficit in 2019, it will be difficult for the local governments to provide the entire cost of replacing the viaduct.

The change in federal funding highlights the lack of action taken in finding the right option to replace the Interstate 81 viaduct as it nears the end of its useful life. City and county officials were depending on assistance from the federal government, which may not be coming if Trump’s budget is enacted.

“This budget is a disaster,” Coran Klaver, a professor at Syracuse University, said. “I’m very angry, because it’s a disaster that would not have affected this project if people in the suburbs had not been so afraid of having to have this highway turn into a community grid and go into the city.”

While Klaver is in favor of the community grid option, there has been opposition for such a plan by Onondaga County officials and government leaders in the suburbs of Syracuse. Other options include constructing a tunnel or renovating the current viaduct.

This isn’t the first setback to the project in 2018. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the tunnel idea would be included in the environmental study of I-81 replacements in his State of the State address in January, which means a decision won’t be made on the project until next year.

But if the President’s budget limits federal funding as proposed, the state and city will have to find different methods to raise capital for I-81’s replacement.