Interstate 481 New York

I-481 New York
History
North End
South End

Overview

Interstate 481 constitutes a suburban bypass loop around the city of Syracuse, from southern reaches of the city to the villages of East Syracuse and North Syracuse. Beyond the northern exchange with I-81, the freeway continues to Fulton as part of New York Route 481 extending 31.8 miles northwest to NY 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 outlined three alternatives for addressing the aging bridge system of Interstate 81 through the city of Syracuse. The Viaduct Alternative included replacing the 1950s-built roadway with a new viaduct designed with considerable improvements. It was 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 relocates Interstate 81 to bypass Syracuse over I-481 as improvements are made to the belt route. I-481 will be eliminated and the remaining limited access sections along the former I-81 will be redesignated as Business Loop I-81. The freeway from the south would be replaced by a urban boulevard northward to a reconstructed Almond Street.1 The grid option requires 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 below grade 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 was 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 precedes the completion of the final environmental statement and the record of decision for the 1.4 mile section of Interstate 81.2 The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) accepted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) through September 14, 2021.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) conditionally approved the relocation of Interstate 81 east over I-481 at the Spring 2021 Meeting. The action replaces 15.14 miles of I-481 and eliminates the existing I-81 between south Syracuse and Cicero. 9.9 miles in length, the former alignment of I-81 was approved as Business Loop I-81.

History

The Interstate Urban Area Numerology for Syracuse, New York initially numbered the loop from the New York Thruway at Van Buren southeast to East Syracuse and north back to the Thruway in the town of DeWitt as Route 490 and the southeast quadrant of the bypass loop from Route 490 to Route 81 as Route 381. The American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) recommended on August 29, 1958, the renumbering Route 490 as 690 to keep in sequence with loops at Buffalo and Rochester, and Route 381 as 281, since it connects with the Interstate System at both ends. These changes were accepted and formally approved by the AASHO Route Numbering Committee on November 10, 1958.

The Syracuse east bypass 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

Interstate 281 was formally renumbered as I-481 on January 1, 1970. 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. 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 AASHO previously approved the redesignation of I-281 to I-481 on October 26, 1969.

There were also proposals to create 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)

Source: 2019 AADT NYSDOT Traffic Data Viewer

Syracuse, NY - 1970

The initial stretch of I-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.

Central New York - 1976

Interstate 481 was extended north to the New York Thruway by 1976, while the freeway along NY 481 was open to traffic northwest from I-81 to Fulton.

Highway Guides

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

I-481 North at I-81 NY 481

Interstate 481 transitions into NY 481 north as Exit 9S loops onto I-81 south back to Syracuse. Photo by David Greenberger (12/19/99).
An end I-481 / begin NY 481 shield assembly was posted beyond the Exit 9S previously. NY 481 travels 21 miles to Fulton and 32 miles to Oswego. Photo by Douglas Kerr (08/00).

NY 481 South at I-81 I-481

NY 481 meets U.S. 11 (Brewerton Road) just prior to Exit 9 for I-81/481. U.S. 11 parallels Interstate 81 to the west through the village of North Syracuse. 05/09/05
The entrance ramp from U.S. 11 forms an auxiliary lane to Exit 9S for Interstate 81 south through Syracuse. 05/09/05
Interstate 481 southbound begins as Exit 9S departs from NY 481 for I-81 south. Interstate 81 runs 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. 05/09/05
Interstate 81 ventures north from Exit 9N and North Syracuse to Watertown and the Thousand Islands Bridge to Canada. I-481 proceeds southeast five miles to the New York Thruway and eight miles to the east end of Interstate 690. 05/09/05
Exit 9N loops away from NY 481 south for I-81 north to the suburbs of Cicero and Brewerton. Interstate 81 crosses the Oswego County line beyond Oneida Lake. 05/09/05
The end NY 481 and begin I-481 shield assembly southbound was removed after 2005. Historically a trumpet interchange joined the NY 481 with I-81 here. 05/09/05

I-81 South at I-481 NY 481

I-81 south at I-481/NY 481 - Cicero

Interstate 81 curves southwest from the Bay Road overpass to the cloverleaf interchange (Exits 29N/S) with NY 481 and I-481. Photo by Doug Kerr (03/21/11).

I-81 south at I-481/NY 481 - Cicero

Exit 29N leaves I-81 south for NY 481 to North Syracuse and the northwest suburbs. Oswego lies 32 miles to the northwest on Lake Ontario. Photo by Doug Kerr (03/21/11).

I-81 south at I-481/NY 481 - Cicero

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 by Doug Kerr (03/21/11).

I-81 North at I-481 NY 481

I-81 south at I-481/NY 481 - Cicero

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 weaves between several subdivisions along this stretch. Photo by Doug Kerr (08/31/11).

I-81 south at I-481/NY 481 - Cicero

Exit 29S departs in a quarter mile for Interstate 481 south to East Syracuse and DeWitt from I-81 north. Photo by Doug Kerr (08/31/11).

I-81 south at I-481/NY 481 - Cicero

Interstate 81 retain six overall lanes from the north end of I-481 at Exit 29S to NY 49 at Central Square. Watertown lies 62 miles to the north. Photo by Doug Kerr (08/31/11).

South End I-81 – Syracuse, New York

I-481 South at I-81

Interstate 481 bee lines west through a valley between the South Campus of Syracuse University and parallel Rock Cut Road to succeeding ramps for Brighton Avenue (Exit 1) and I-81. 05/09/05
Forthcoming Brighton Avenue parallels Interstate 81 north to U.S. 11 (Salina Street) and south to NY 173 (Seneca Turnpike). 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. 05/09/05
I-81 southbound departs Syracuse for the Onondaga Indian Reservation and the town of LaFayette. Northbound heads to Syracuse University and Downtown. 05/09/05
A loop ramp combines with the northbound entrance ramp to Interstate 81 from Brighton Avenue as traffic separates for I-81 south to Binghamton. 05/09/05
An end shield for Interstate 481 appears along the ramp for I-81 north. An auxiliary lane opens ahead to Exit 17 for S Salina Street (U.S. 11). 05/09/05

I-81 North at I-481

I-81 north at I-481 - Syracuse, NY

Interstate 81 straddles a hillside 200 feet above the adjacent community of Nedrow along U.S. 11. The freeway remains rural in design to Exit 16A with Interstate 481 north. Photo by Doug Kerr (07/28/12).

I-81 north at I-481 - Syracuse, NY

Brighton Towers rises southeast of the directional T interchange (Exit 16A) joining Interstate 81 with I-481 north. The Loretto Health & Rehabilitation complex is just west of the exchange. Photo by Doug Kerr (02/08/10).

I-81 north at I-481 - Syracuse, NY

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. 01/17/17

I-81 South at I-481

One mile north of Exit 16A for I-481 north on I-81 south at the Brighton Avenue underpass. This assembly was replaced by 2013 with a new sign bridge during a project replacing metal guard rails with a concrete barrier median. 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. Installed in 2000, this overhead was replaced with a new sign bridge by 2013. 05/09/05
Continuing beyond the Salina Street entrance ramp, I-81 advances to Left 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. 05/09/05
Glen Avenue passes over Interstate 81 at Left Exit 16A for I-481 north. The previous set of signs for Exit 16A used Cortland as a control point for Interstate 81 south. This sign bridge was removed by 2013 with new overheads attached to the adjacent overpass. 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 August 10, 2021.