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Wednesday, Jun 30, 2021 at 1:15 pm

Pete Buttigieg, Chuck Schumer, Kirstin Gillibrand in Syracuse to Discuss the I-81 Construction Project

By Teagan Brown

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Pete Buttigieg, the United States Secretary of Transportation, made his first visit to Syracuse today in order to see a highway that will soon be replaced. 

The former democratic presidential candidate got to see Interstate-81 with his own eyes and to interact with those affected by its presence.

For years Syracuse residents have argued that this highway divides the city and those who live in it. Some of these residents were present at the press conference where they held homemade signs that read “81 is a racial justice issue.” 

Buttigieg was brought to discuss the progression of the I-81 project by New York senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer. Senate Majority Leader Schumer emphasized that he had been urging the Secretary to come to Syracuse since the beginning. 

“Before he even got sworn in I said to the secretary, will you come to Syracuse and see I-81 and he said yes and here he is.” he said.

While the presentation of this project to Secretary Buttigieg is new, this is an old issue that has been discussed in Syracuse for a long time. Back in 2018 the state and city still had not decided if the interstate would be replaced with a community grid or a viaduct among other ideas and options that were presented. 

As of April of 2019 Syracuse reached a decision to proceed with the community grid plan because they say they believed it would be the best option for residents. 

While this was deemed as the best decision, many argued how this would affect minorities and their neighborhoods. Secretary Buttigieg acknowledged the problems that can be associated with race and transportation.

“As everybody here knows, all the other issues we talked about, jobs, safety, prosperity, racial justice, cannot be separated from transportation, that’s why we’re here. Every decision about transportation is necessarily a decision about justice.” he said. 

Buttigieg went on to acknowledge that interstate systems have created lasting damage in communities that included Black and Brown neighborhoods, including Interstate-81. 

One focus of the senators, secretary, and Syracuse officials was the employment and involvement of minorities on the project. 

A Public Labor Agreement, or PLA will be attached to all projects involved with I-81 to assure that minorities, women, and veterans are hired to work. Along with that, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that these workers would not be paid “slave wages, low wages so we can minimize the project. Every program we have will have project labor agreements and be pro labor.” he said. 

Secretary Buttigieg expanded upon the importance of PLA’s further by saying that they represent who makes up the community that they are in.

“One of the great examples of the potential of better workforce inclusion comes from these PLA’s, these public labor agreements… That work force in that labor group reflects the community that after all is the community we’re doing this for.” he said. 

In January New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the I-81 project would break ground in 2022, but driving along the highway you can already see work being done.

Local businesses and workers will be the focus of the workforce on the project but bidding has not yet started. However, Senate Majority Leader Schumer ensures that it will be a competitive process.