Interstate 481 New York

I-481 New York
History
North End
South End

Overview

Interstate 481 serves as a half-beltway around the city of Syracuse, from southern reaches of the city to the villages of East Syracuse and North Syracuse. Beyond the north parent junction, the freeway continues as NY 481 to Fulton as part of a state route extending 31.8 miles northwest to New York 104 at Oswego, the Port City of Central New York.

The I-481 beltway provides a bypass route for through traffic headed between Binghamton and Watertown on I-81. The loop also serves commuter traffic around the east suburbs and the retail corridor along NY 5 in DeWitt.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for the I-81 Viaduct Project outlines three alternatives for addressing the aging bridge system of Interstate 81 through the city of Syracuse. The Viaduct Alternative under study includes replacing the 1950s-built roadway with a new viaduct designed with considerable improvements. It is estimated to cost $2.2 billion.1,2

The Community Grid Alternative involves demolishing the existing viaduct and decommissioning the route as a I-81. Estimated to cost $1.9 billion, this alternative would relocate Interstate 81 to bypass Syracuse over I-481 as improvements are made to the belt route. I-481 would subsequently no longer exist and a new Interstate spur would be designated over a portion of old I-81 from the north. The freeway from the south would be replaced by a urban boulevard northward to a reconstructed Almond Street.1 The grid option will require the acquisition of 136 parcels, 18.72 acres in Syracuse, nine in Cicero and two in DeWitt.2

The Orange Tunnel Concept would demolish the elevated roadway between the NYS&W Railway bridge and Interstate 690 and build a four lane tunnel between Martin Luther King, Jr. East to James Street. Including a 0.3 mile section of depressed roadway, the alignment would measure 1.7 miles in length. I-690 would also be reconstructed from Leavenworth Avenue to Lodi Street. Anticipated to take 11 years to complete, this option is estimated at $4.9 billion.1 The DEIS rejected this proposal in April 2019, based upon it meeting the project goal to2

maintain or enhance the vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle connections in the local street network within the project limits in and near Downtown Syracuse to allow for connectivity

Coming into agreement with several Syracuse city officials, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) named the Community Grid as its preferred alternative in April 2019. A series of public meetings follow before publishing of the final environmental statement and the record of decision for the 1.4 mile section of Interstate 81.2

History

Originally numbered Interstate 281, I-481 represented the final phase of the 1968 interstate and arterial program for Syracuse. The section from East Brighton Avenue to Jamesville Road was not approved in the $150 million program that included I-81 between Nedrow to Willow Street in Syracuse and all of Interstate 690. Anticipated traffic growth in the 1960s and 1970s however fueled the need for the eastern bypass of Syracuse to DeWitt.3

It appears that the numbering change was undertaken in an effort to reduce confusion with New York State Route 281, located 15 miles to the south in Cortland County. Interstate 281 was formally renumbered as I-481 on January 1, 1970. The planned 9.6 mile route ended at Collmar. The five mile extension to I-81 at North Syracuse tied into what was a trumpet interchange with Bear Road. The 20 mile continuation of the freeway northwest to NY 3 at Fulton, previously referenced as Relocated Route 57, was designated as New York Route 481.4,5 AASHTO previously approved the renumbering on October 26, 1969.

There were also concepts to create Interstate 481 as a full beltway around Syracuse, but that concept never materialized. I-481 opened initially between Jamesville Road (Exit 2) in the town of Dewitt and Interstate 690 (Exit 4) at East Syracuse by the early 1970s.6 Bids for the estimated $20 million project to build three miles of I-481 north from the Butternut Interchange to the New York Thruway were opened on November 19, 1970. Eight miles of associated road work involved constructing interchanges with I-90 and Kirkville Road and building ten bridges, including a 2,127 foot long span over the DeWitt railroad yards. The project was scheduled for completion in November 1973.7,8

The route was then extended north to Interstate 90 (New York Thruway), before being completed southwest to I-81 in Syracuse. Extension of the beltway northward from the Thruway (Exit 6) to I-81 at North Syracuse (Exit 9) was finished by late 1985.6

Syracuse, NY - 1985 Map
The final link of Interstate 481 was built between NY 298 and I-81 at North Syracuse – Syracuse inset from the 1985 Rand McNally North American Road Atlas.

Route Information

  • North End – North Syracuse, NY

  • South End – Syracuse, NY

  • Mileage – 15.04

  • Cities – DeWitt, Syracuse

  • JunctionsI-81 I-690 I-90 NY Thruway

Source: December 31, 2018 Interstate Route Log and Finders List

I-481 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT)

Location Vehicles per day
Exits 1 to 2 31,318
Exits 2 to 3 34,115
Exits 3 to 4 64,393
Exits 4 to 5 47,227
Exits 5 to 6 40,588
Exits 6 to 7 32,113
Exits 7 to 8 32,706
Exits 8 to 9 33,969
Exits 9 to 10 57,557
Exit 10 to NY 31 29,068
NY 31 to Oswego Co. 22,227
Onondaga Co. to CR 57A 20,998
CR 57A to NY 264 17,262
NY 264 to CR 57 13,338

The initial stretch of Interstate 281 / 481 served local traffic in the town of DeWitt. This 1970 Dimapco fold map showed I-281 on the Syracuse inset while displaying I-481 on the state side.
Interstate 481 was extended north to the New York Thruway by 1976, while the New York 481 freeway was open to traffic northwest from I-81 to Fulton.

Highway Guides

North End I-81 New York 481 – North Syracuse, New York

Perspective from Interstate 481 north
Interstate 481 transitions into New York 481 north as Exit 9S loops onto I-81 south back to Syracuse. Photo taken by David Greenberger (12/19/99).
Historic Perspective from Interstate 481 north
An end I-481 / begin NY 481 shield assembly was posted beyond the Exit 9S previously. New York 481 travels 21 miles to Fulton and 32 miles to Oswego. Photo taken by Douglas Kerr (08/00).
Perspective from New York 481 south
New York 481 crosses paths with U.S. 11 (Brewerton Road) prior just west of Interstates 81 and 481 (Exits 9S/N). U.S. 11 parallels Interstate 81 to the west through the village of North Syracuse. Photo taken 05/09/05.
The on-ramp from U.S. 11 forms an auxiliary lane to Exit 9S for Interstate 81 south through Syracuse. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Interstate 481 southbound begins and New York 481 ends as Exit 9S departs from NY 481 for I-81 south. Interstate 81 ventures southwest to Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR), Mattydale and Galeville before entering the Syracuse city limits by Onondaga Lake.
The pull through panel for I-481 was removed by 2009. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Interstate 81 ventures north from Exit 9N and North Syracuse to Watertown and the Thousand Islands Bridge to Canada. Interstate 481 proceeds southeast five miles to the New York Thruway and eight miles to the east end of Interstate 690. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Exit 9N loops away from New York 481 south for I-81 north to the suburbs of Cicero and Brewerton. Interstate 81 crosses the Oswego County line beyond Oneida Lake. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Historic Perspective from Interstate 481 north
The end NY 481 and begin I-481 shield assembly southbound was removed after 2005. Historically a trumpet interchange joined the state route freeway with I-81 here. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Perspective from Interstate 81 south
Interstate 81 curves southwest from the Bay Road overpass to the full cloverleaf interchange (Exits 29N/S) with NY 481 and I-481. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Motorists bound for New York 481 to North Syracuse and the northwest suburbs depart from I-81 south at Exit 29N. Oswego lies 32 miles to the northwest on Lake Ontario. Photo taken by Douglas Kerr (05/19/02).
Interstate 481 follows a rural course southeast to Cicero Swamp before turning south to the New York Thruway, East Syracuse and the town of Dewitt. Photo taken by Douglas Kerr (05/21/02).
Perspective from Interstate 81 north
Interstate 81 north makes an S-curve from Taft Road north to the cloverleaf interchange (Exits 29S/N) for I-481 south and NY 481 north. The freeway squeezes between several subdivisions along this stretch. Photo taken by Douglas Kerr (07/26/02).
One quarter mile ahead of the off-ramp (Exit 29S) for Interstate 481 southeast to East Syracuse and DeWitt on I-81 north. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Interstate 81 retain six overall lanes from the north end of I-481 (Exit 29S) to NY 49 at Central Square. Watertown lies 62 miles to the north. Photo taken 05/09/05.

South End I-81 – Syracuse, New York

Perspective from Interstate 481 south
Interstate 481 bee lines west through a valley between the South Campus of Syracuse University and parallel Rock Cut Road to back to back ramps for Brighton Avenue (Exit 1) and Interstate 81. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Forthcoming Brighton Avenue parallels Interstate 81 north to U.S. 11 (Salina Street) and south to New York 173 (Seneca Turnpike). Photo taken 05/09/05.
Exit 1 leaves I-481 south as the mainline curves west into the directional T interchange with Interstate 81. Ramps for I-81 are unnumbered. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Nearing the Brighton Avenue overpass, overheads direct motorists for Interstate 81. I-81 southbound departs Syracuse for the Onondaga Indian Reservation and the town of LaFayette. Northbound heads to Syracuse University and Downtown. Photo taken 05/09/05.
A loop ramp combines with the northbound on-ramp to Interstate 81 from Brighton Avenue as traffic separates for I-81 south to Binghamton. Photo taken 05/09/05.
An end shield for Interstate 481 appears along the ramp for Interstate 81 north. An auxiliary lane opens ahead to Exit 17 for South Salina Street (U.S. 11). Photo taken 05/09/05.
Perspective from Interstate 81 north
Interstate 81 straddles a hillside 200 feet above the adjacent community of Nedrow along U.S. 11. The freeway retains a rural appearance to Exit 16A with Interstate 481 north. Photo taken by Douglas Kerr (05/15/02).
Brighton Towers rises above the adjacent tree tops just southeast of the directional T interchange (Exit 16A) joining Interstate 81 with I-481 north. Photo taken by Douglas Kerr (05/15/02).
Interstate 81 continues with two lanes through the exchange with I-481, and six lanes northward three miles to Downtown Syracuse. I-481 arcs northeast five miles to Dewitt and 6.5 miles to the east end of Interstate 690. Photo taken by Douglas Kerr (12/01/02).
Historic Perspective from Interstate 81 south
One mile north of Interstate 481 north (Exit 16A) on I-81 south at the Brighton Avenue underpass. This assembly was replaced by 2013 with a new sign bridge during a project to add a concrete barrier median in place of metal guard rails. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Interstate 481 north represents the last southbound exit along I-81 within the Syracuse area. The freeway proceeds south along a mostly rural route 70 miles to Binghamton.
This 2000-installed overhead was replaced with a new sign bridge by 2013. Photo taken 05/09/05.
Continuing beyond the Salina Street on-ramp, motorists on Interstate 81 approach the two-lane off-ramp (Exit 16A) for Interstate 481 leading northeast to DeWitt and East Syracuse. This sign bridge was also replaced by 2013 with new signs for I-481 using Left Exit tabs. Photo taken 05/09/05.
The previous set of signs for Exit 16A used Cortland as a control point for Interstate 81 south. taken by Chris Curley (04/00).
Glen Avenue passes over Interstate 81 at the left-hand ramp for Interstate 481 (Exit 16A) north. This sign bridge was removed by 2013 with new overheads attached to the adjacent overpass. Photo taken 05/09/05.

Sources:

  1. I-81 Viaduct. NYSDOT project web page, accessed November 28, 2016.
  2. “Exclusive: New York selects ‘community grid’ alternative for I-81 in Syracuse.” Syracuse.com, April 22, 2019.
  3. “Interstate Project Viewed As Downtown Salvation. The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), March 5, 1962.
  4. “‘281’ Enters New Year as Route 481.” The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), January 3, 1970.
  5. “Description of Touring Routes in New York State for the Interstate (I), Federal (US) and State (NY) Route Number Systems.”
  6. “Bids Due On Rte. 481 Project.” The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), October 19, 1970.
  7. “Lane Bids Low for Route 481.” The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), November 21, 1970.
  8. Interstate 481 exit listing. http://www.upstatenyroads.com/i481.shtml The Upstate New York Roads Site.

Page updated June 12, 2019.