To extend or not to extend, that is the question for Metro Rail

Apr 19, 2017

It might be 2027 before you can buy a ticket to ride the Metro Rail out to the University at Buffalo's North Campus - and even longer before you can head out to a job in the Crosspoint Business Park, where Millersport Highway and the I-990 meet.  That was the message Monday evening at a public forum organized by Citizens for regional Transit.

Speaking Monday to the meeting, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Planner Rachel Maloney Joyner said the 18 months or so of an environmental impact study will start this summer, then the planning process goes on from there - with a big "if."

The question is whether the Trump Administration wants to put any money into public transit. Several major projects around the country have stalled recently when federal money was pulled. However, the big ask for the more than a $1 billion for the project is years away.

The NFTA's presentation outlined how the plan responds to new market trends, including $7.4 billion in recent investment ,as well as an estimated $1.7 billion future planned development at the Seneca One Tower in downtown Buffalo, on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, at Northtown Plaza on Sheridan Drive in Amherst and adaptive reuse projects such as Tri-Main and Highland Park in Buffalo.

Joyner disagreed with critics that the plan to extend Metro Rail into Amherst is just an excuse for better service among UB North, South and downtown Buffalo.

"Oh, this is just a project for UB. It's just going to go out Millersport," she said. "It's just going to serve the campuses and actually UB, the representatives from UB, said they preferred a Boulevard alignment because it provides better access to the community. It gets the students out in the laboratory of Amherst, Buffalo, gets them job opportunities, service opportunities. So they're really excited about that potential."

Joyner said the final route has not yet been decided. The final plan might call for more rail on Niagara Falls Boulevard, as the route runs from a tunnel coming to the surface near Eggert Road, then along the boulevard and eventually over to the North Campus, over Maple and Sweet Home roads.

Amherst Planning Director Eric Gillert said a further extension from UB north to the Crosspoint Business Park needs a good look.

"Along Audubon Parkway, that was really designed to be automobile-oriented and this is going to change that," he said. "Actually, it'll present a lot of opportunities for maybe some additional economic development in that corridor. We really haven't had the resources to take a close look at that and make some recommendations, both on the planning level, maybe something that would be included on the zoning level."

Gillert said his town board has not made any decisions on whether it is in favor of extending the Metro Rail.

Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger said some of this reflects younger attitudes, compared to his generation.

"We're not big bike riders, okay?" he said. "The millennials, they don't want cars, okay? They want to be able to hop on the bus, hop on the Light Rail Rapid Transit - maybe because they're in so in debt from their college loans - but it's a different era that we're in and we have to embrace that."

Emminger said his town board backs better transit service but not rail. Instead it favors what's called Bus Rapid Transit or BRT, saying it is quicker and cheaper.