ITHACA, N.Y.—It’s featured on space probes billions of miles away as the image of a “modern highway”. but the city of Ithaca would prefer local residents give their thoughts on plans for updating Route 13 at a meeting next week.

The City of Ithaca Engineering Office and Bergmann Associates, their consultants on the Route 13 plan, will host a public meeting for the “Cayuga Waterfront Revitalization Project” on Wednesday, Jan. 18 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Boynton Middle School (1601 North Cayuga Street). City staffers and the Bergmann consultants will be in attendance to present the current iteration of the Route 13 project as well as provide an overview of its goals.

The goal of this introductory meeting is to solicit input from the public, which can be used to help determine the scope of the project and to inform potential design alternatives. The meeting will be an open house format and people can come and go as they please.

Broadly, the Route 13 redesign has three goals. The project is focused on three components. One is transforming Route 13 into an urban boulevard, from Cascadilla Street to Dey Street. A second goal is improving the crossings of Route 13 in the West End and Northside for people walking, biking or using other modes of non-motorized transportation. The third goal is reviewing and planning for other transportation improvements that would allow for a better connected waterfront district in the area between Route 13, and Cayuga Lake and Inlet.

The public information and revision process is expected to take about a year. By the end of 2023, the city expects to have a final design in place and begin the formal approvals process for the “revisitation”. Work itself is separate and dependent on when funding is available and awarded by the state or federal sources (one could reasonably presume the “urban boulevard” version of Route 13 isn’t likely until at least 2025).

The redesign work is 50% city funds and 50% funded through a $1.37 million federal BUILD grant awarded to the city of Ithaca back in September 2020, following an application to the feds in 2018. The goal has been fairly consistent in the past couple of years—the stated goal at the time was to make the 0.85 mile stretch of Route 13 better able to facilitate pedestrian and bikers usage and to reduce traffic.

Route 13 has evolved in many ways since its original designation in the 1920s. Initially, it came up Spencer Road, through Downtown Ithaca and through Cornell’s campus along what is now University Avenue and Forest Home Drive. By the mid-1930s, it was rerouted along East State Street and what is now Route 366.

Most of the modern-day iteration of Route 13, “modern highway” it was, dates from the early 1960s, when it bypassed a Downtown Ithaca that state authorities were eager to ignore in the hopes of wooing up-and-coming suburbanites, and continued as a limited access freeway through Ithaca’s northside and into the town of Dryden. Initially, the plan was to make it a limited access freeway through the village of Dryden and all the way to the city of Cortland, but it never fully materialized. Years later, the redesignation of West End southbound lanes from Meadow Street to Fulton Street happened in the mid and late 1990s as part of the untangling of “the octopus.”

In recent years, the urbanization of the Route 13 corridor has become something of a hot topic. On the one hand, a glance at The Ithaca Voice‘s Project Map shows several hundred housing units and tens of thousands of square feet of office space, retail and renovated spaces recently completed or in the works adjacent to the redesign area. On the other hand, West Hillers and commuters from the surrounding towns have expressed frustration with the possibility of a lower speed limit and limited lane space for their vehicles as they traverse Ithaca’s West End and North Side.

The open house meeting on Jan. 18 is only the first of what will be several large-group public engagement opportunities. If you can’t make it, the Route 13 plans also have a website, www.route13ithaca.com, where written comments may be submitted after the materials are presented at the meeting on the 18th.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.