Interstate 781 New York

I-781 New York
History
East End
West End

Overview

Interstate 781 is the Fort Drum Connector1 leading east from I-81 to U.S. 11 in Upstate New York. I-781 constitutes a direct route to Fort Drum from I-81, bypassing Watertown north from Exit 48A east to the Main Gate along Iraqi Freedom Drive. The freeway opened to traffic on December 5, 2012.

History

Plans called for the Fort Drum Connector to be built and opened to traffic by 2012 at a cost of $106.2 million.2 The planning, design, and construction process took the better part of a decade to complete:

  • Preliminary Design – Summer 2003 to Summer 2006
  • Design/Project Development- Winter 2006 to Spring 2010
  • Bid Opening – Spring 2010
  • Construction – Spring 2010 to Spring 2012 December 6, 2012

Route Information

  • East End – LeRay, NY

  • West End – Pamelia, NY

  • Mileage – 4.30

  • Cities – Watertown

  • JunctionsI-81

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

I-781 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT)

Location Vehicles per day
I-81 to US 11 9,935
US 11 to Fort Drum 12,794

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.

East End US 11 / Fort Drum North Gate – Le Ray, New York

I-781 East at US 11

I-781 east at US 11 - Le Ray, NY

Interstate 781 leads east to a single point interchange (Exit 4) with U.S. 11 south to Watertown and north to Evans Mills, and the gate to Fort Drum. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 east at US 11 - Le Ray, NY

Interstate 781 end signage posted 1.5 miles west of Exit 4. Delivery trucks and convoy traffic bound for Fort Drum are directed onto U.S. 11 north to NY 26 (Fort Drum Road) to access the Army base. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 east at US 11 - Le Ray, NY

Goulds Corners Road passes over I-781 one mile from the SPUI with U.S. 11. 319 miles long in the Empire State, U.S. 11 travels 1,645 miles overall between New Orleans, Louisiana and Upstate New York. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 east at US 11 - Le Ray, NY

The speed limit reduces to 45 miles per hour leading into the exchange with U.S. 11 on Interstate 781 eastbound. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 east at US 11 - Le Ray, NY

Two lanes continue over U.S. 11 to Iraqi Freedom Drive into Fort Drum. I-781 provides a direct route from I-81 to U.S. 11 north to Gouverneur and the St. Lawrence County seat of Canton. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 east at Fort Drum - Le Ray, NY

An end shield for Interstate 781 appears above U.S. 11 by the eastbound entrance ramp to the Fort Drum Main Gate. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

US 11 South at I-781

US 11 south at I-781 - Le Ray, NY

U.S. 11 expands to four lanes ahead of the SPUI with Interstate 781 (Fort Drum Connector). I-781 west leads to Interstate 81 near Pamelia Center. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

US 11 south at I-781 - Le Ray, NY

Two lanes turn east from U.S. 11 to the Main Gate for Fort Drum. Interstate 781 west provides a bypass of Watertown to NY 3 (Arsenal Street) while linking with I-81 north to the 1,000 Islands Bridge. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

West End I-81 – Pamelia, New York

I-781 west at I-81 - Pamelia, NY

An end sign appears midway between U.S. 11 and Interstate 81 along I-781 westbound. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 west at I-81 - Pamelia, NY

One mile out from the trumpet interchange (Exits 1N/S) with Interstate 81 on I-781 west. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 west at I-81 - Pamelia, NY

Interstate 781 passes over NY 37 a half mile from Exit 1. Interstate 81 north leads 25 miles to the Canadian Border via the Thousand Islands Bridge. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 west at I-81 - Pamelia, NY

Exit 1S loops onto Interstate 81 south. Downtown Watertown is five miles away via I-81 and NY 12. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-781 west at I-81 - Pamelia, NY

Exit 1S forms an auxiliary lane along I-81 south to Exit 48 with NY 342. NY 342 connects with adjacent NY 37 and NY 3 at Black River. Photo by Valerie Deane (12/16/12).

I-81 North at I-781

I-81 north at I-781 - Pamelia, NY

A parclo interchange (Exit 48) joins Interstate 81 with NY 342 just south of Interstate 781. NY 342 forms an 8.37 mile long arc between NY 12 to the west and NY 3 at Black River. I-781 provides a direct route to U.S. 11 for travelers bound for Canton. Photo by Doug Kerr (12/15/12).

I-81 north at I-781 - Pamelia, NY

U.S. 11 accompanies I-81 for the bulk of the 854 mile long route north from Tennessee. The lone interchange along I-781 is with U.S. 11, which leaves the I-81 corridor northeast to Champlain. Photo by Doug Kerr (12/15/12).

I-81 north at I-781 - Pamelia, NY

Exit 48 departs I-81 north for NY 342. NY 342 provides a bypass of Watertown for NY 3 from Black River to Carthage. Prior to the completion of I-781 opened, NY 342 was also the main route to Fort Drum from I-81. Photo by Doug Kerr (12/15/12).

I-81 north at I-781 - Pamelia, NY

The entrance ramp from NY 342 forms an auxiliary lane along I-81 north to Exit 48A for Interstate 781 east. Photo by Doug Kerr (12/15/12).

I-81 north at I-781 - Pamelia, NY

Interstate 781 east concludes at the gate to Fort Drum, providing a seamless link between I-81 and Iraqi Freedom Drive on base. Photo by Doug Kerr (12/15/12).

Sources

  1. Next step taken in building new road.” Watertown Daily Times (NY) July 1, 2008.
  2. Fort Drum Connector Project (I-81 to US 11) – Project I.D. No. 7804.26. https://www.nysdot.gov/regional-offices/region7/projects/fort-drum-connector NYSDOT web site.
  3. Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Fort Drum Connector Project. https://www.nysdot.gov/portal/page/portal/regional-offices/region7/projects/fort-drum-connector/impact-nov08 (November 2008).

Page updated July 28, 2021.