Due to increasing development, strategic connectivity between Interstate 81 and Fort Drum, and overall traffic needs the connector (Interstate 781) was proposed for at least a decade. This need was first identified in the mid 1980s with pressure from area development and NY 342 unable to handle the daily traffic to and from the base. The main purpose of the project was to provide a four lane, Interstate grade connection from Interstate 81 east to Fort Drum, a U.S. Army Base. The goal enhanced the “strategic viability of the Army Base,” replacing the current route along two lane NY 342.3
Three alternatives were identified in the Final Environmental Impact Statement to carry Interstate 781 to the north gate of Fort Drum:
- Northern Alignment – new freeway parallel to but north of NY 342
- Middle Alignment – upgrade NY 342 to Interstate standards, then create a new alignment to reach the north gate of Fort Drum
- Southern Alignment – new freeway parallel to but mostly south of NY 342, with a turn northeast toward the north gate of Fort Drum
The Record of Decision, which was issued on March 6, 2009 by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), identified the Northern Alternative as the preferred alignment for Interstate 781. The report identified the highway as New York Route 781. With the Record of Decision complete, construction was scheduled to begin in early 2010.
The 4.3 mile proposed section of NY 781 was designated a future part of the Interstate System under 23 U.S.C. 103(c)(4)(B) by FHWA on April 13, 2009. The establishment of the Fort Drum Connector as an Interstate created no new Federal financial responsibility. The segment was determined to be a logical addition
for providing defense access from the fort to the Interstate System and for relieving traffic congestion between the fort and the Watertown urban area.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approved the establishment of Interstate 781 on October 23, 2009.