As he delivered his State of the State message in Amherst on Monday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled details for his proposed "Buffalo Billion Squared," the next phase of Western New York development. Among the ideas drawing cheers was a proposal to expand the Buffalo Metro Rail.
Cuomo's proposal would see the light rail extend north from the University at Buffalo's Main Street Campus into Amherst, while extending at the other end to the DL&W Terminal in the City of Buffalo's Cobblestone District.
The governor says extending the light rail system will "directly connect to tens of thousands of jobs."
Paul Brown, president of the Buffalo Building Construction Trades Council and business manager for Plasterers Local 9, sees plenty of job opportunities for his union peers, just as there were for the construction of the original line in the early 1980s.
"In my opinion, the key is the railway," he said. "If they can do the subway all the way to the (UB) North Campus, that's a big deal."
It's an idea that, back in the 1980s, was not warmly received by many in the suburbs. Problems including lower-than-anticipated usage, a declining population, a lack of funds available for expansion and opposition by many suburbanites stalled expansion in its tracks.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz believes three decades later, feelings have changed in Amherst and there's a new appreciation for what the light rail could do to ease traffic congestion, including within the Village of Williamsville.
"They realize we're all one community, and that's why I don't expect to see any pushback," Poloncarz said. "And when you have a leader like (Mayor) Brian Kulpa in Williamsville, and others in Amherst who understand the need for the extension of the light rail, I think it will happen. And now that the state's willing to put some money behind it, I'm certain it's going to happen."
Erie County Legislator Edward Rath issued a written statement in response to the governor's proposal:
"Today the Governor once again discussed the need for increased public transportation in our communities. I was very interested to again hear support for extension of the light rail line into the Town of Amherst. Clearly our public transportation lacks significantly and while this issue has been talked about often in the past, it hasn’t moved forward. I looked forward to hearing more details about the proposal and hope that we can enhance services for residents."
The president of the Buffalo and Niagara County Building Trades was at Governor Cuomo's State of the State message and sees even more good things for his members. In his address, the governor talked up a lot more construction projects across Western New York. Union leader Paul Brown said the Amherst extension of the Metro Rail will be key.
"That will revitalize the whole area. I think that's the game changer," Brown said. "Then again, that's just my opinion. Niagara Falls - that's a big deal doing their downtown, too. I just hope that they acquire that property they are talking about. That's going to be tough."
Brown praised Cuomo for his role in proposing projects and getting them done.
"Riverbend, SolarCity was the most exciting job. I've been in construction about 40 years. That was by far the most exciting job going. It was just great," he said. "It was a lot of tension, a lot of fighting, not fighting for space. It was the whole thing was just exciting. The only thing I've seen that was close was the Galleria Mall, when that was go, go, go."