White House infrastructure coordinator stresses I-81 replacement is key priority

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The Biden administration’s infrastructure coordinator is keeping a close eye on how the pieces fit together for the I-81 replacement project in Syracuse.

Mitch Landrieu stopped by Syracuse on Monday to highlight the Biden administration’s commitment to the $2.25 billion I-81 project through the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure act.

Landrieu previously served two terms as mayor of New Orleans. Before that, he was lieutenant governor when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. He also spent several years at the Louisiana State House. Now serving as Biden’s senior infrastructure adviser and coordinator, Landrieu applies his prior experience to ensure the I-81 project runs smoothly.
He recently told a table of local, state and federal officials that he was working closely with President Biden’s cabinet secretaries on the I-81 project and others across the country.

“I held 15 cabinet meetings with them to break down the silos between and among all the cabinet secretaries so they all talk to each other about how to get that money to the ground,” said Landrieu. “Then I spoke to all the governors in the country and asked each of them to appoint an infrastructure coordinator to help do the same thing at the state level. And I ask all the mayors to do the same. So when we set the table, there’s federal, state, and local cooperation, and communication, coordination all the time so that we don’t have to start from scratch when we start getting money.

From what he’s seen, Landrieu said Syracuse-area stakeholders are on the right track. He said he was impressed by everyone’s efforts to publicize the jobs generated by the project. The neighborhoods close to the viaduct were the most impacted by the project during its construction, and will be upset again when it comes to creating a community network.

“I would encourage you very strongly and very strongly to become the model for the county”, said Landrieu. “Let Syracuse be the city that shows America that diversity is our greatest strength, it’s our superpower. How you actually figured out exactly how to do workforce development and training. How you really understood, in a very elegant way, how to do local hiring.

Landrieu feels very connected to the former 15th arrondissement of Syracuse, the predominantly African-American neighborhood decimated by the construction of the I-81 overpass. He said he grew up in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in the country. His parents still live in the same house.

Mitch Landrieu listens to Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens as Senator Rachel May looks on Oct. 17, 2022. Behind Owens is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who invited Landrieu to Syracuse.
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