Froggie's Thoughts on Syracuse (NY) Area Highways

This page is a collection of my notes, thoughts, and comments on Syracuse area highways.

- I-81 is the main north-south highway through central New York.  As with the states further south, I-81 is a major trucking corridor, and it's common to see large numbers of trucks along the highway.

- Overall, traffic flows fairly well along I-81...about the only time there's a non-weather-related problem is during the morning commute, as things can sometimes be slow in the right-most lane heading in towards downtown from both directions.  This daily backup rarely extends beyond the city limits (roughly NY 370 on the north and I-481 on the south) unless there's another issue at play.

- Southbound I-81 through the city has relatively poor lane continuity.  There is only 1 continuous through lane for SB I-81 traffic through the I-690/Downtown Viaduct area.  Fixing this would require a lot of bridging, possibly a lot of right-of-way (ROW), and as a result, a lot of money that NYSDOT simply doesn't have.

- If DestinyUSA ever takes off, I-81 may need to be widened between I-690 and Hiawatha Blvd.  This would be extremely difficult to do, as I-81 weaves around a number of buildings along this stretch.  Some buildings are as close as 8-10 feet to the outer edge of the shoulder.  Any appreciable widening would require rebuilding every overpass along here as well as a lot of building demolition.  That said, I could see widening I-81 to 8 lanes from I-690 to NY 370/Old Liverpool Rd as a long-range item.

- South of Syracuse, NYSDOT has done a fairly good job of keeping I-81 in good condition.  They've also included truck climbing lanes on some of the grades in southern Onondaga County.  The only problem is that a couple of the interchanges lack advance guide signs.  Northbound at US 20/Exit 15 for example, you don't know the exit is coming until you're right at it.

- North of Syracuse, NYSDOT built I-81 as 6 lanes all the way up to NY 49 at Central Square, partially due to recreational traffic.  As a result, this segment only sees congestion if there's been an accident.

- One of only two systems of C/D roads in the Syracuse area is on I-81:  between US 11 at Mattydale (Exit 26) and Taft Rd (Exit 28).  This setup includes the ramps and loops to/from Syracuse/Hancock Int'l Airport (Exit 27).

- Ultimately, what I'd like to see done, besides the usual maintenance and upkeep, is the following:

- I-90, which follows the New York State Thruway through Onondaga County, is another heavily-traveled corridor.  I-90 has 2 lanes in each direction, 1 service plaza in each direction, and 6 interchanges within Onondaga County.

- Unlike other parts of the Thruway, the pavement condition within Onondaga County leaves a lot to be desired.  Very bumpy with a lot of ad-hoc patches.  IMO it needs a full pavement reconstruction.

- Traffic volumes through Onondaga County are moderate, ranging from 28K to 40K AADT.  At the rate traffic is growing, the Thruway may need to be widened to 6 lanes (3 in each direction) in the next 10-15 years.

- Something faster than a 5 MPH EZ-Pass lane would be nice.  Doodling around, I've drawn some medium-speed dedicated EZ-Pass ramps at the I-690, I-81, and I-481 interchanges.  The prospects of anything being built, however, are slim.

- What I'd like to see done along the Thruway:

- I-481 serves as an eastern loop around Syracuse, giving I-81 through traffic an alternative to going through the city.  Although I-481 is almost 4 miles longer than I-81, it partially makes up for this by having a 65 MPH speed limit.

- NY 481 is a freeway extension of I-481 between I-81 and the outskirts of Fulton, built in the 1970s.  The route continues as a mix of city street, 2-lane road, and 4-lane divided highway through Fulton and on up to Oswego.  NY 481, once completed, replaced the former NY 57, which was then decommissioned and became CR 57.

- Originally proposed as I-381, the southern half of I-481 was then proposed as I-281, before morphing into a full eastern loop and becoming I-481.

- In the early 1970s, there were two proposals for tying I-481 into I-81 on the south side of town.  Besides the corridor which was built, there was an alternative which would have taken it more southerly from Exit 2, bypassing Clark Reservation State Park to the east, and connecting to I-81 just north of the US 11 interchange at Nedrow.  This option was considered in order to tie it into a then-proposed Southwest Loop which would have connected to the stub end of the NY 5 freeway in Geddes.

- Also in the early 1970s, as the freeway part of NY 481 was planned and being built, there was an interchange that was supposed to be built in Clay that never was for some reason.  A trumpet interchange was planned roughly halfway between the Morgan Rd and Henry Clay Blvd overpasses.  This interchange would have connected to Waterhouse Rd initially, but was also planned as the northern terminus of an extended John Glenn Blvd.  I'm not sure why the project was scrapped.

- Exit 11 on NY 481 is weird.  It's a northbound-only exit to Maple Rd and Caughdenoy Rd.  No northbound on-ramp or southbound ramps at all.  Also, the only way to get out of this area is to head east to US 11 or north to NY 31.

- What to do with NY 481 in the Fulton area has become a subject of interest over the last few years.  I've heard stories of the possibility of a Fulton bypass.  At the same time, I've also heard reports that NYSDOT is buying up ROW along NY 481 through Fulton for some sort of widening project.

- What I would do with the corridor:

- I-690, in conjunction with part of I-481, forms a "through town" route off of the Thruway into the city of Syracuse.  The route follows the path of the pre-Interstate-proposed East-West Expressway through Syracuse, and offers a freeway alternative to NY 5 through the city.  I-690 replaced part of NY 48 west of downtown Syracuse.

- NY 690 was originally conceived as a Baldwinsville bypass for through traffic on NY 48.  It eventually picked up the NY 690 designation, while NY 48 remained going through Baldwinsville.

- When originally built, I-690 ended at a traffic signal at the ramps to the Thruway at the old Thruway Exit 39, which intersected I-690 about halfway between John Glenn Blvd and State Fair Blvd.  When the new Exit 39 was built about a mile to the west, the stoplight was removed and I-690 was extended to the new interchange.  Abandoned ramp grading still exists for parts of the old interchange, and part of it is now used for a Thruway maintenance facility.

- Part of westbound I-690, between I-481 and Thompson Rd, has 2 lanes striped on what was built as a 3-lane section.  The reason for this is the cancellation of a freeway route running east of the I-481/I-690 interchange.

- One of the many oddities on the Interstate system occurs on I-690.  Within the interchange at NY 695 is a semi-permanent traffic signal system.  The signal system serves a satellite parking lot for the New York State Fairgrounds, and is only active during State Fair time (late August/early September).  During the rest of the year, the signal heads are removed and the advance warning signs for the signal are folded down.  I have seen this signal in action and it's weird having a traffic signal on an Interstate.  As the sideroad is for traffic leaving the parking lot only, it is a simple two-phase signal.

- There is an odd widening of the median in I-690 at the Bear St half-interchange (Exit 9).  The reason for this is not's not for the interchange itself, as that has a right-side entrance and exit, not left-side.

- As with I-81, I-690 through its interchange with I-81 has only 2 lanes each way with minimal shoulder.  The speed limit through the interchange is not quite as bad as I-81 though...50 MPH vice 45 MPH for I-81.

- The other of the two systems of C/D roads in Syracuse is on I-690, between NY 635/Thompson Rd (Exit 16) and Bridge St (Exit 17).

- Three suggestions for the I-690/NY 690 route:

- Prior to construction of the Thruway, NY 5 was the primary east-west route through the Syracuse area.  It is still moderately traveled, as some see it as a toll-free alternative to the Thruway.

- Even with I-690 nearby, NY 5 east of downtown Syracuse is still an important arterial, with most of the stretch between downtown and I-481 having 6 lanes.

- Following NY 5 through Syracuse involves a number of turns.  Between NY 695 and I-481, there are 7 turns involved, with 4 of those just within downtown Syracuse.

- Through the late 1960s and early '70s, there were grander plans for NY 5, as the route was to have been mostly freeway in both directions from downtown Syracuse.  The only part of these plans to actually get built was the freeway bypass of Fairmount and Camillus.  This freeway segment has half-interchanges, stub ramps, and abandoned grading on both ends.  To the west, the freeway would have extended towards Auburn on new alignment, though a specific alignment was (AFAIK) never determined.

- There were a number of possible plans considered in the early '70s for routing NY 5 between the east end of the freeway and downtown Syracuse.  These included a one-way pair or limited-access arterial utilizing parts of W. Genessee St and/or Erie Blvd, a freeway routing along W. Genessee St or Erie Blvd, and a freeway running south towards Onondaga Blvd, then east towards downtown Syracuse.  This last option prevailed through the mid '70s, and some of the routing can be seen on aerial imagery as a space between developments.  Near Onondaga Blvd, this freeway would have turned east, and would have been either a freeway or limited-access arterial paralleling either Grand Ave or Onondaga Blvd/Onondaga St east to either Geddes St or possibly as far as West St.  Eventually, all options for extension or expansion were dropped.

- There were also plans for NY 5 east of Syracuse.  The I-481/I-690 interchange was built to accommodate an eastward extension, and some of these ramps are even paved and used by the NYS Police and NYSDOT, which has a maintenance facility just east of the interchange.  This eastward extension was originally planned as a NY 5 new alignment freeway that would have extended east to existing NY 5 near Chittenango.  A later, late '80s proposal studied a reduced-scope extension to near the NY 257/NY 290 junction.  This later proposal would have been a NY 290 realignment, but as with many other plans for the Syracuse area was eventually dropped.

- Some suggestions I have for NY 5:

- Prior to I-81, US 11 was the main north-south route through Syracuse.  When I-81 was completed, US 11 was relegated to secondary status.

- As with NY 5, there are a number of turns required to stay on US 11 through Syracuse, 4 in all.  Most of these turns are poorly signed.

- US 11 goes through some not-so-nice neighborhoods south of downtown area with a lot of poverty and crime.

- NY 31 is an east-west route, much of which is parallel or nearby to the Erie Canal.  Although NY 31 does not pass through Syracuse proper, it does pass through the northern Syracuse suburbs.

- There is no direct ramp from NY 31 to southbound NY 481.  Drivers must turn south onto Soule Rd, then turn left onto an access ramp to southbound NY 481.

- A "Baldwinsville Connector", running from NY 481 to NY 690, was first proposed in the early 1970s.  The proposal got as far as a partial EIS in 1979, and would have been a new alignment NY 31 freeway between the other two freeways.  I have not found anything else on this proposal, though part of that proposal morphed into the Baldwinsville bypass studies that led to the construction of NY 631 between NY 31 and NY 370.  Building the rest of the cancelled NY 31 freeway would be very difficult nowadays, due to development on both sides of NY 31 between Baldwinsville and NY 481.

- Within the last 10 years or so, a lot of commercial development has occurred in the vicinity of the NY 31/NY 481 interchange, anchored by the Great Northern Mall in the northeast quadrant of the interchange.  With the development has come a lot of traffic and a lot of traffic signals.  NYSDOT has widened NY 31 to a 5-lane section from west of CR 57 to Morgan Rd (east of NY 481) to accommodate the traffic, but there are still a lot of signals slowing things down.  Within a one-and-a-half mile stretch of NY 31 on either side of NY 481, there are 10 traffic signals, and not all of them are coordinated with each other.

- The signal at NY 31 and Morgan Rd was recently redone, in conjunction with a widening project and a bridge replacement at Mud Creek.  Curiously, the signal has a protected-only left turn signal for westbound NY 31 traffic turning south, but a protected-permitted signal for eastbound traffic turning north.

- Construction is underway on an extension of the 5-lane section of NY 31 from west of CR 57 west across the Oswego River to NY 631.  This widening project included replacement of the old 2-lane overhead truss "Belgium Bridge" with a new 5-lane concrete girder span.  The old bridge was dismantled and reassembled at an Erie Canal crossing in western Onondaga County.

- To the east, there are plans to extend the 5-lane section east to Henry Clay Blvd (a section that needs to be done), but there is no timeline that I know of for it.  The signal at Henry Clay Blvd is a standard 2-phase signal, and can see some lengthy delays since each approach has only one lane and NY state law prohibits drivers from using the shoulder to pass left-turning vehicles or make a right turn.

- Though the speed limit is 55 MPH east of Mud Creek, there is no mention of this at the intersection at Henry Clay Blvd.

- My suggestions for NY 31:

John Glenn Blvd

- This road is the "what-was-built" portion of a plan for a limited-access arterial between I-690 and NY 481.  The basic design called for a 4-lane divided facility with partially-controlled access, few or no driveways, and access via at-grade intersections.  The segment between I-690 and Buckley Rd was built in the early 1970s.

- Although it ends at Buckley Rd, the original plan was to continue it north to an interchange at NY 481, mentioned above.  This extension has been completely scrapped as far as I know, though development has not been thick enough yet to preclude its eventual construction.

- Though the goal was for a limited-access facility, there are a few driveways along John Glenn Blvd.  There are a few between I-690 and Farrell Rd/Long Branch Rd, and also a single driveway in the westbound lanes just east of CR 57.  There are 4 traffic signals and one at-grade RR crossing along John Glenn Blvd.

- The speed limit along John Glenn Blvd is 55 MPH between I-690 and CR 57, and 40 MPH between CR 57 and Buckley Rd.  The speed limit is very poorly signed, though.

- A recent project added a second left turn lane for traffic turning from eastbound John Glenn Blvd to northbound CR 57.

- The 1971 transportation plan for the area described the possibility of upgrading John Glenn Blvd to a freeway when and if traffic volumes warranted it.  They never have, though.

- What I'd do with John Glenn Blvd:

More highways and routes to follow in the future.

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Page last modified 18 April, 2008

Copyright (C) 2005,  Adam Froehlig