Upstate NYers: I-81 Construction?

We’ll be going to Niagara Falls in a few weeks. It’s been quite awhile since we made the trip. Coming up the PA Turnpike into NY, we can either take (a) I-81 to I-90 or (b) NY-17. It seems I-81 has a lot of construction per Google Maps. Should I-81 be avoided if possible?

As an alternative, it seems some or all NY-17 has been replaced by I-86 and/or I-386? Perhaps the interstate starts at Corning, NY? What’s this route like nowadays? Feedback on both routes would be greatly appreciated.

Where are you coming from? I prefer I-80 to I-180, thru Williamsport to US-15 to I-99 to I-86; beautifully scenic & less traffic than I-86 to I-81 to I-380 to I-80 (coming home).

P.S. It’s I-390, not I-386 & it starts a bit NW of Corning.

I drive this all the time (although I don’t get as far as the turnpike).

There is some construction on 81, where it is down to a single lane. But, it was not too bad overall. It’s in short enough stretches that you can’t ever get too stuck behind slow moving traffic without an opportunity to pass. If you’re coming out of PA on 81, most of the construction was south of Binghamton, so you will hit that regardless of whether you stay on the 81 at Binghamton up to Syracuse, or veer west to take 86/17, and then the 390 north.

These days, it’s 17 in the east part of NY, and then just east of Binghamton it changes to 86, and stays 86 all the way to Erie PA. It’s essentially the same thing. When you say “quite a while” I’m not sure how long that is, but if you remember a long way back, when it was 17, there were a handful of at grade intersections in the Horseheads - Corning area. Those are all bypassed now, it’s highway driving the whole way. The speed limit used to cap at 55, now most stretches are 65. Even with that, it’s not any faster to take 86/17 (everyone I know still calls it 17, and probably will until they die) from Binghamton to Niagara Falls than the 81. I would say it’s about dead even. I think GPS will tell you 81 to 90 is faster, but hitting one unexpected slow down will eat up any difference. It’s a roll of the dice.

Because you said you’re definitely taking the turnpike to 81, I’m assuming you’re coming from somewhere in eastern PA, but if not, there could be some other alternatives if you wanted to weave up from the turnpike to catch PA15 up to 86.

I drive it so often I usually mix it up just for variety.

Pros of 81 all the way to the 90 at Syracuse (via the 690) are mainly better access to gas/services. The 90 has full service rest stops (with gas) without getting off the highway, and 81 has very new rest stops (not with gas) and most exits off the 81 have 24 hour gas stations right at the access road.

Pros of 86/17 is mostly that I think it’s a more interesting drive. It’s just nicer to look at, and more variety. There’s a stretch of that route that is country road, and that’s good for breaking it up. You can stop in Mount Morris NY for lunch, it’s very cute. On the downside, most of the rest stops (none with gas service) are older, some can be desolate. Some of the exits require a bit of a drive to a gas station, and depending on what time of day you are traveling, fewer are 24 hours. (Edited to add: okay, it’s not THAT far to drive to the gas stations, but you know how it is – on a long drive, a 7 minute drive from the exit to get gas (and back) feels like it’s really eating into your time as opposed to a two minute drive).

Mmmmmmmm…NY Route 17 to Horseheads. Nostaglia trip. Then just a jog up north to Ithaca. Great weed, great LSD, great food, great bookshops, great Ivy ambiance in the middle of nowhere, great looking young college people who all have GREAT LEGS because of all of the damn hills.

Sorry I have nothing to add about traffic problems. I just love Ithaca.

If I were doing it I would take 81 due to the aforementioned better access to services: if you have to stop along the way it might even save you time in addition to it being a slightly faster route. If you’ve never been along 86/390, you might want to do it once for the scenery, but I’ve seen it enough that it doesn’t impress me anymore. It’s not like you can see lots of waterfalls from the freeway.

But I’d agree that it depends on where you’re coming from. Central PA is one thing versus points southeast.

Sorry… I should have mentioned we’re coming from the Philly area. In PA, the NE Extension of the PA Turnpike to I-81 north to Syracuse would be most direct. Thanks for the advice. And, good point on the lack of services if I avoid I-81. Thanks, all!