Plans for expanding Metro Rail continue moving forward. The next public workshop about the proposed $1.2 billion project is Tuesday night in Amherst.
The familiar sound of Metro Rail rolling down the tracks along Main Street in downtown Buffalo might be heard someday all the way out past the Univeristy at Buffalo's North Campus in Amherst.
“It’s something that’s part of the original plan,” said NFTA Executive Director Kimberley Minkel. She says the state provided $5 million for a study and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Metro Rail expansion should be wrapped up soon. Minkel says the project makes a lot of sense.
"We're seeing a wonderful renaissance of downtown Buffalo. We've seen the growth in Amherst and quite frankly along the spine of the existing system. You have the movement of the Medical Campus downtown. Connecting UB's two campuses, three campuses now, makes a lot of sense," Minkel said.
Under the NFTA's preferred alternative, Metro Rail would be extended past the University Station on Main Street in Buffalo and north on Niagara Falls Boulevard, the dividing line between the Town of Tonawanda and the Town of Amherst.
"The light rail project could be very much a gamechanger on that side of town," said Amherst Supervisor Brain Kulpa. He says the first thing it would do is create equity.
"It allows people from the city of Buffalo to come out and work in commerce centers in Amherst and to be able to move back and forth across the city and town line without need of a car. And so it creates a sort of synergy, right? It connects Amherst directly to the Medical Campus, which is phenomenal because that's where a lot of our growth happens. The bottom line is Amherst's economy is very much based in med-science and medical research. So having that connection is dynamite for our economy," Kulpa said.
The project also has the support of Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joe Emminger. He says it could spur redevelopment along Niagara Falls Boulevard.
"As a matter of fact we've already seen appreciation in values over in the Kenilworth area since the NFTA announced that they were going to be proposing the project," Emminger said.
And Emminger says, increased property values creates more revenue for the town.
"You bring more revenues in you have more sales tax. There's things that are attractive to bringing small businesses larger businesses, on the Amherst side and along that corridor, that's beneficial really to not only to Tonawanda and Amherst but everybody in Erie County," Emminger said.
The new line would run above ground along Niagara Falls Boulevard, from about Kenmore Avenue to the Boulevard Mall, east on Maple Road to Sweet Home Road, through UB's North Campus and terminating near Audubon Parkway and Interstate 990.
Some public comments on the NFTA's website about the project say the Boulevard is too busy for light rail and it would be faster to connect UB's North and South campuses directly down Millersport Highway.
Minkel says the economic spinoff under the NFTA's preferred plan is pegged at $1.7 billion and ridership is expected to double to about 60,000 riders a day.
"There were other alignments that we looked at. For example, could it be a quicker ride coming down parallel to the Youngman Expressway for example? Yes. But you wouldn't be capturing as many riders. And I think it's important that we provide a service that is more accessible to where people live and work that would have higher ridership potential," Minkel said.
Kulpa says extending Metro Rail will also help move student housing out of residential neighborhoods and into high density retail and commercial areas along Maple Road and the Boulevard Mall site, which may be converted into mixed-use.
"Now you have the ability to say hey we're going to couple great workforce development opportunities with the University at Buffalo, directly connect that area to student housing, directly connect it to retail and create an area that people want to be. And so we don't have to deal with loss of brain power every time a graduating class up and leaves Amherst or Buffalo," Kulpa said.
If all goes according to plan, Minkel says the NFTA could break ground in five years. The public can see the latest design plans and learn more about the Metro Rail Expansion Project Tuesday night from 5 to 7 p.m. at Sweet Home Middle School.