Lanika Mabrey was unemployed for over two years. Struck by type 2 diabetes and uninsured, she said she spent a long time struggling with the disease while lacking health care. Then, a friend, Louise Poindexter, told her about the existence of a free health clinic in Syracuse. “I went there and they even gave me my diabetes medication for free,” said a jubilant Mabrey. In the late afternoon of June 4, both women reunited. They were holding hands in silence as a part of a circle. The circle opened the community assembly of the Partnership for Onondaga Creek, the advocacy organization that drew the women close to each other.
The partnership, rooted in the Midland area of the South Side, meets throughout the year on the first Tuesday of the month at Brady Faith Center, a few blocks away from the creek. One of the main items scheduled on the assembly agenda was a report on the I-81 Third Public Meeting, which took place May 21 in the OnCenter. The partnership sent a representative to the I-81 meeting, who was asked to post comments on the public boards, regarding the future of the I-81, on behalf of the non-profit organization.
As Peter King, the representative, was absent at the assembly, Aggie Lane conveyed his ideas. She said that King’s concerns revolved around insuring environmental justice on this issue. King told her that people living in the Pioneer Homes neighborhood of the South Side weren’t giving input to the state Department of Transportation and the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council to decide what to do with I-81 at the end of its functional life in 2017.
The reason being that both governmental agencies weren’t doing outreach to the South Side community, she added. Further concerns for King were that there was no health impact assessment of the alternatives to I-81. For instance, on the urban heat island effect of laying more concrete and asphalt where units of Pioneer Homes stand now. Pioneer Homes is a government public housing project providing affordable rental units. It is surrounded by East Adams, East Taylor, South Townsend and Almond streets. The latter is located under the I-81 elevated section.
Lindsay Speer, a board member at Onondaga Earth Corps, said that she had been in talks with the transportation manager for Syracuse City Hall, Paul Mercurio, who told her that the public agencies in change were leaning toward replacing the I-81 viaduct with a boulevard. “As of 2017 the present viaduct will be illegal since it won’t meet federal highway specifications,” she said. “The viaduct will have to be made much wider and more houses will need to come down. ” Lionel Logan, a veteran card-carrying member of the Syracuse National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, chimed in.
He said that he got the impression that businesses next to the I-81 corridor in Syracuse are controlling the decision-making process, specially the business represented by Bob Congel, founder and managing partner of the Pyramid Companies, owner of the Destiny USA mall. Logan ratified the notion that in four more years the way I-81 was built will be illegal. “They are going to redo the I-81 raised section. As far as I’m concerned, I saw the writing on the wall when the highway now known as I-481 wasn’t named I-81 instead. There is as much traffic in I-481 as in I-81. ”
Alt-81, a joint research initiative between the Syracuse University’s School of Architecture and Upstate: Center of Design Research and Real Estate, analyzed the issues brought up by King and Speer in a design studio report, which partly concurs with them. “Rebuilding the I-81 viaduct, given current federal standards, could mean a very different roadway: lane widths may be wider, on- and off-ramps longer and more easily navigated; it could also mean the demolition of affordable housing,” according to the report. “Completely rethinking the ways highways operate, foregoing federal standards in favor of a state or local roadway ould result in a new experience of urban expressway travel. ” Other items on the partnership meeting agenda included presentations on a Community Action for Jobs campaign, by Lane and Dhiki Drury, and on the Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — by Mabrey. Mabrey’s personal experience with lack of health care propelled her to try to help individuals without health insurance. “When Obamacare came out, it generated fear,” she said. “But now I’m involved in a coalition promoting it, called Health Care for New York. ”