By Patrick Lohmann | plohmann@syracuse.com 
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SYRACUSE, N.Y.– State Sen. John DeFrancisco is hoping state engineers reconsider an option for the reconstruction of the deteriorating Interstate 81 overpass, saying he thinks the extra money might be well worth a tunnel to siphon at least some of the traffic heading through the city.

DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), said in an interview Wednesday he is still in favor of exploring the so-called “tunnel” option, which would cost an estimated $3.1 billion to carry the interstate under the city. That estimate is nearly twice as much as the two remaining options.

The department of transportation cited the cost two weeks ago when it announced that the tunnel option was not feasible.

DeFrancisco, who is also the senate’s deputy majority leader, said he’s repeatedly asked the Department of Transportation to provide a detailed cost breakdown of the tunnel option. He recently sent a letter to Commissioner Matthew Driscoll asking for those numbers, he said.

“I’m not convinced, until I see those numbers, that the cost is prohibitive,” he said. “…This is something that people will use in this area for 100 years. If it costs a little more, fine.”

He hasn’t received a response to the letter yet, he said. He declined to provide the letter until he gets one.

The two remaining options are to replace and widen the current viaduct or remove the highway entirely, dispersing traffic onto the city street grid instead. The final decision is expected to be made early next year.

DeFrancisco pointed to comments from Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the recent opening of the
New York State Fair in which he called Interstate 81’s construction a “classic planning blunder.” He said he sees rebuilding and widening the current viaduct as doubling down on that blunder.

Traffic will be “astronomical,” he said, if the interstate is torn down, and few drivers will brave it to shop at Destiny USA mall or shops in the Town of Salina, he said.

“How can you with a straight face as an administration come up with two options where one of them was already determined by the governor to be the biggest blunder in transportation?”

The interstate’s construction in the late 1950s destroyed the 15th Ward neighborhood and created a divide between the University area and downtown. Advocates say putting in a “community grid” would bridge the gap. However, DeFrancisco also dismissed that idea, calling it “Erie Boulevard on steroids.”

“How many people do you see crossing Erie Boulevard?” he said. “Erie Boulevard is a smaller thoroughfare… I mean, it’s a joke. You can’t justify something that in my mind is unjustifiable.”