Interchange of the Week
Monday, 16 April 2001
I-81 & I-690, Syracuse
A full-size image (960 kb) is also available.

Orientation: Interstate 690 runs left to right. Interstate 81 enters at bottom and exits in the extreme top left corner, after running for a short distance between the opposing roadways of I-690.

NY 5 runs along Erie Boulevard, from left to right immediately south of I-690. US 11 runs along State Street, from top to bottom, forming an obtuse angle at the NY 5 intersection. Townsend Street is one block to the right of State Street. NY 290 (James Street) branches to the right from US 11, just north of the interchange. Salina Street runs along the left edge of the photo.

Exit numbers: The interchange between Interstates 81 and 690 is not a numbered exit from either highway, a common practice for Interstate junctions in many parts of the country but unusual in New York State. The westbound exit from I-690 to North Townsend Street is Exit 13. On I-81 southbound, Exit 19 is for Clinton and Salina Streets; this exit is not visible here but its corresponding northbound entrance ramp is. Exit 18 southbound is for Harrison Street; this ramp is partially visible at bottom.

The interchange: In the heart of Syracuse, this tangle of ramps is one of New York's best-recognized complex interchanges. The two Interstates meet at a pronounced offset as they squeeze through constrained rights-of-way. Furthermore, the entire interchange is elevated above the pre-existing grid of city streets. Below it, the cleared land has been taken up by small parks and parking lots. Because of the space restrictions, it was not possible to construct flyover ramps for most of the left-turn movements (the exception being the westbound-to-southbound ramp). Therefore, Interstate 81 was placed inside the spread "median" of I-690, allowing left-turn movements from I-81 to be accomplished by way of right-hand ramps joining I-690 from the inside. Most of the remaining connections are made by slip-type ramps between the closely parallel roadways.

Despite its intricacy, the interchange is not complete: there are no connections southbound-to-westbound, or eastbound-to-northbound. A section of Bear Street (NY 298), not far to the north and west, serves primarily as an at-grade connector to accomodate this traffic.

Mixed in almost unnoticed within the array of viaducts, a half-diamond interchange on I-690 serves traffic between the downtown district (lower left) and points east. This is Exit 13, which consists of a westbound-only exit ramp to North Townsend Street. A corresponding entrance from North McBride Street (one block east of Townsend) rises up inside the interchange's southeast quadrant. Similarly, downtown connections to and from points north on I-81 are made at Exit 19. A southbound-only ramp branches from I-81 just off the top left corner of this photo; this ramp then splits for North Clinton Street or North Salina Street. The end of this ramp merging with North Salina Street is just barely visible. The northbound entrance branches from Pearl Street, carrying traffic from US 11 (North State Street) via a short block of East Willow Street or Hickory Street, and from North Salina Street.

Interstate 81 and Interstate 690 exit listings at J. P. Wing's Upstate New York Roads.
Central New York Highways by Douglas Kerr contains pictures of this interchange.

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