Plans for Interstate 81's viaduct through Syracuse were slowed by a lawsuit that made claims about the plans' effects on residents. An I-81 street sign is pictured here. Photo by Michael Greenlar

The Interstate 81 project can move forward but state officials must conduct more environmental reviews, Judge Gerard Neri ruled Tuesday.

The announcement of Micron’s development in Onondaga County — among other factors — led Neri to determine the state must complete additional reviews before demolishing the I-81 viaduct, the judge wrote in a 24-page decision.

He wrote that the New York State Department of Transportation needs to review:

  • Air quality near Interstate 481
  • Potential effects on water resources
  • The impact of Micron on traffic

DOT officials said they are still reviewing Neri’s decision but the department is “moving forward with contracts as part of the I-81 viaduct project, per the court’s decision.”

City of Syracuse Chief Policy Officer Greg Loh said in a statement the decision, “creates uncertainty and overrides a comprehensive and established state and federal regulatory process.”

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed by Renew 81 for All, a group lead by Onondaga County Legislator Charles Garland, former Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler and suburban politicians.

Renew 81 filed its lawsuit in September, a few months after the New York State Department of Transportation finalized its plans to replace the I-81 viaduct that runs through Syracuse with a community grid.

Renew 81 argued the environmental review performed by the state was incomplete. For projects like the teardown of Interstate 81, the state must conduct environmental reviews that comply with the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Garland, who championed the lawsuit, called the judge’s ruling a “mutual win” because the decision would not stall the project but also allowed for additional review.

“I’m pleased that the judge looked at the totality of the argument and found reason to pause,” Garland said.

Lanessa Chaplin of NYCLU speaks at an NYCLU rally for Lead-Free Syracuse at Wilson Park on Saturday, Sept. 17. Photo by Mike Greenlar | Central Current.

Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Environmental Justice Project, said the decision is “another reason why the community doesn’t trust the system.”

She said she believes the New York State Department of Transportation had done a “robust air quality review.” Owens-Chaplin has advocated for the community grid option.

She pointed out that the judge threw out claims by Renew 81 for All about the project’s impact on the South Side.

Owens-Chaplin called Neri’s decision regarding Micron’s effect on the project a “red herring.” He ruled ruled that size of the Micron project necessitated the state review its impact on traffic on Interstate 81.

It would be difficult for the DOT to analyze Micron’s impact without concrete numbers, she said.

“This is about the suburban communities not wanting the viaduct removed,” Chaplin said of the lawsuit.

The judge also ruled that while air quality had been reviewed near the viaduct, it had not been adequately reviewed near Interstate 481, where the state plans to re-route some traffic.

Neri wrote in his decision that stormwater management analysis needed to be performed because some runoff would travel into Onondaga Lake and Onondaga Creek. At oral arguments for the case in January, the state said it was issuing contracts for stormwater management analysis.

“Such tentative plans are not sufficient for SEQRA,” Neri ruled.

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Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or