Interstate 781 at Fort Drum now open

Interstate 781, also known as the “Fort Drum Connector,” is now open and will make the connection between U.S. Route 11 and Interstate 81 in the vicinity of Watertown a bit faster and safer.

This approximately 4.8-mile highway connects with Route 11 near the main (north) gate to Fort Drum with I-81 at a new interchange, designated “exit 48A,” about three-fourths of a mile north of exit 48, which is state Route 342.

For upstate New York motorists traveling south of Watertown, this new 65 mph interstate highway will enable drivers to avoid Route 11 between the main entrance to Fort Drum and Route 342 where there are many commercial establishments, including Walmart, and at least four traffic signals. Likewise, busy Route 342 connecting Route 11 to I-81, passing by Longways Truck Stop and an intersection with state Route 37, can also be avoided.

As part of the $57 million project, the largest in recent years in state Department of Transportation Region 7, several large overhead sign structures were installed along Routes I-81, I-781, and U.S. Route 11. The project also includes the following Intelligent Transportation System features: five permanent electronic variable message signs and three traffic monitoring cameras tied into the Syracuse-area Traffic Management Center, and one Roadway Weather Information System tied into the state DOT Jefferson County Residency. DOT’s Region 7 is the largest in the State, covering 8,634 square miles in five counties (Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin and Clinton).

The Connector goes over I-81, state Route 37 and U.S. Route 11. Gould’s Corners Road crosses over the Connector. The project included the construction of full interchanges at I-81 and U.S. Route 11 with the Route 11 interchange being a Single Point Urban Interchange. A SPUI is an innovative design that provides a safe and efficient way to move high volumes of traffic through highway interchanges. (The state’s first is on Route 7 in Latham.) The SPUI bridge retaining walls received aesthetic treatments and provide a gateway for Jefferson County and Fort Drum.

Fort Drum is the largest military installation in New York State in terms of size, number of personnel and contribution to the economy. It is home to the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) and 18,000 active duty soldiers. It is also the largest employer in Northern New York. The 10th Mountain is the most deployed Division in the U.S. Army. The estimated annual economic impact due to Fort Drum now exceeds $1 billion.

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