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


Historic I-81 photoI-81 was built in Central New York during the 1950s and 1960s for two main reasons: to carry through traffic between Pennsylvania and Canada and to bring local traffic in and out of the City of Syracuse. The highway was the product of a vigorous federal road-building program that included the construction of many miles of interstate highways in every state across the country.

The idea of the proposed highway, particularly through downtown Syracuse, was controversial. Local residents, business interests, and leaders had differing opinions about the highway's design and location. Many issues, including economic growth, property taxes, housing, and community development, were divisive. Ultimately, the decision was made to construct the highway with its current design and alignment and, by the late 1960s, I-81 was completed through Onondaga County.

Role and Function

I-81 serves two major transportation functions. First, I-81 is one of the Syracuse metropolitan area’s major commuter corridors. I-81 provides direct access from suburban and rural communities to downtown Syracuse, the city’s hospitals, Syracuse University, and SUNY-ESF. Five of the 10 largest employers in the region, as reported by the Greater Syracuse Economic Growth Council, are located adjacent to I-81. Second, I-81 is an important national and international trade route. In terms of long-distance hauling, I-81 provides a major alternative to congested I-95. According to the I-81 Corridor Coalition, it has been estimated that 12% of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product travels on some portion of the I-81 corridor. I-81 also serves as an important connection to the east-west route of I-90.

See the Resources box for a Fact Sheet with additional information as well as maps of the study area.


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