Interstate 81 History

Interstate 81
The History

The following is from a brochure that was handed out at the ribbon cutting of Interstate 81's completion ceremony.


A Toll-Free Express Highway
From the Pennsylvania State Line
to the
Canadian Border

State of New York
Nelson A. Rockefeller, Governor
Department of Transportation
T. W. Parker, Commissioner

Interstate Route 81

Keystone of the highway network which serves the great heartland of the Empire State is the NORTH-SOUTH EXPRESSWAY (Interstate Route 81), cited for its beauty in a national competition.

With 178 miles in service, this vital artery is New York State's longest continuous toll-free Interstate System highway. Beginning at the Pennsylvania State line, it courses gracefully northward through the counties of Broome, Cortland, Onondaga, Oswego and Jefferson. It links numerous communities, including the cities of Binghamton, Cortland, Syracuse and Watertown, and stretches to the Thousand Islands International Bridge crossing the majestic St. Lawrence River. The last section, a four-mile segment which will cross Wellesley Island to the Canadian border was placed under construction early in 1969 and will be opened to traffic in 1971.

Interstate 81 interchanges with two major east-west expressways within the Empire State -- at Syracuse with the Thruway and at Binghamton with the Route 17 - Southern Tier Expressway. The latter is open to traffic in its entirety to the New York Metropolitan area; all sections westerly to the Pennsylvania line near Erie are open, under construction or under design.

New York's sections of the multi-lane, divided, controlled-access highway cost $270 million, including engineering, right-of-way and construction. In addition to the main-line mileage, its construction also involved more than 110 miles of connecting and access roads and ramps. As part of the Interstate system, the expressway was financed with 90 per cent Federal, 10 per cent State funds.

First sections of the new expressway were begun in 1954, two years before the Interstate System was authorized by Congress. (Webmaster's note: I-81 was originally slated to be a North-South extension of the New York State Thruway. I believe this portion was the "Syracuse Expressway", which ran from Downtown Syracuse to Northern Lights Circle at current Exit 26.) The last connecting links were opened to traffic in 1968, six years in advance of the Federal deadline for completion of the network. Those sections, along a 17-mile length in Broome and Cortland Counties, earned an Honorable Mention citation in 1969 in the second annual Highway Beauty Awards Competition of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in the category: Most Outstanding Highway in its Rural Setting and Environment.

Interstate 81 History - page 2