The I-81 Challenge Process

The I-81 Challenge planning study has concluded. The New York State Department of Transportation has initiated the environmental review process for the I-81 corridor; current information on the I-81 project can be found at

Current Efforts

I-81 Interchange AerialThe I-81 Challenge is composed of three separate but integrated efforts focused on developing a clear understanding of the current conditions of the corridor, the full complement of potential options for improving the corridor, and the potential impacts of any course of action. The efforts include:

  • The I-81 Corridor Study - a review of the highway’s existing conditions and issues and an analysis of potential options (including those suggested by the public) for the future of the corridor.
  • The I-81 Public Participation Program - a public outreach and involvement effort, led by the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC), to give residents of the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County a place to learn about I-81 and voice their ideas about future options.
  • The I-81 Travel Demand Modeling Effort - a technical project in which the SMTC will use computer simulation to see how future options affect the transportation network.
Next Steps

The process has been developed to integrate these three efforts, making sure that each is linked carefully and continuously with the others. Over the next several years, information about the existing conditions of the highway and the regional transportation system will be collected. An understanding of the community’s values, goals, and ideas will be used to generate a wide range of options for the future of the highway and a set of criteria for evaluating them. This broad range of options will be narrowed down to a small number of viable alternatives through a combination of technical analysis and continued public involvement. Later, the viable alternatives will be refined and analyzed in further detail, and a formal environmental review process, including official hearings, will begin. That process will ultimately lead to a decision, and to a project or projects that can be implemented. (See the Resources box for a copy of The I-81 Challenge Process Diagram.)

Who is involved?

The I-81 decision-making process is being led by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), in conjunction with the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC). The project will involve other partners – agencies, organizations, and individuals from across the community - who have a stake in I-81.


NYSDOT, as the owner of the road, will have ultimate responsibility for any decision about the future of I-81. NYSDOT is responsible for overseeing The I-81 Challenge, the decision-making process and, eventually, construction. NYSDOT will manage this project out of their Central New York office in Syracuse.


The SMTC is the state-designated metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for Onondaga County and small portions of Madison and Oswego Counties. In this capacity, the SMTC does transportation planning for the metropolitan planning area. The SMTC is also responsible for administering federal transportation funds for the area through the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The SMTC is composed of officials representing local, state, and federal agencies. For a complete list of member agencies, see here.

Federal Agencies

Because federal money will be expended, the federal government, through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other federal agencies, will also have a role in the I-81 decision-making process. The FHWA will oversee the adherence to federal transportation planning and design regulations throughout the process.

You. The Public

Because this project has the potential to profoundly impact everyone who lives in the Syracuse metropolitan area, the public will play a major role in the ultimate decision about I-81. The public will be central to the development of options for the future of the highway, as well as the iterative process to narrow those options down to a small set of viable options. The I-81 Challenge needs your involvement.


Read White Paper #3

The SMTC publishes White Paper #3, which documents, describes, and synthesizes findings from The I-81 Challenge Public Participation Program from Fall 2011 until its conclusion in August 2013.   Read More

Find out what we heard at the May 2013 Public Meeting

The May 2013 Public Meeting Summary Report is now available.  Read More

Review the I-81 Corridor Study Report

Public comment period runs through July 8th.  Read More

Visit The I-81 Challenge Facebook page

The I-81 Challenge is on Facebook!  Read More

Read White Paper #2

White Paper #2 highlights community input to date.  Read More