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Metro Rail extension faces a long, winding process

Mike Desmond/WBFO

If everything goes right and Washington has the money to help pay for a Metro Rail extension, construction would start in 2024. WBFO's Mike Desmond takes a look at what's involved and what might be the payoff.


For many people, there might be two major payoffs. One would be less car and bus traffic between UB's South and North Campus because those passengers and drivers would be on the train. The other might be less traffic on Niagara Falls Boulevard since the trains would run along the boulevard to Maple before turning toward Sweet Home.

Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa believes traffic issues play a major role in the thought process for many local residents.

"People are trying to make a decision about where to work, which university to go to, which college they want to go do post-master's work at," Kulpa said.

"The question I have is: What would make Buffalo uniquely different? The unfortunate thing is the unique difference is: Well, if we come out to Buffalo, it's a lot harder to move around. I have to have a car."

There wasn't unanimous support for building the Metro Rail way back when and there isn't likely to be for these extensions. One noteworthy expansion opponent has already emerged: Congressman Brian Higgins.
"My hope is that the NFTA would emphasize the track and the light rail rapid transit system that we have," said Higgins, who is often credited with bringing federal dollars to some major local projects.

"It is outdated. It is obsolete and there is a renewed emphasis in use of that, given the development that has occurred, at both the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Canalside and prospectively the DL&W Terminal."

Still, NFTA Executive Director Kim Minkel will be working to move the planning process forward. It will be a long process, she says, one with many stages before the consultants from WSP start drawing lines on maps.
"We'll have a lot of public outreach and get public input as we go through the process, over the next couple years, similar to the approach that we did for the alternatives analysis," Minkel said.

"This is a project that we're hearing from the community that people want and so it's important that we hear from the community how to do this and how to do this right."

Kulpa says not only would the extension into his town potentially ease traffic, it would make it easier for town residents who work Downtown to get to their jobs and for Buffalo residents to get to their Amherst jobs. The plan also creates access to the Audubon section of town, an area, he believes, is in need of better access.

" (There are) A lot of vacancies in our commercial office environment. We certainly have town services and the town service campus. So, giving our residents access and better access and transit options to our town centers and unlocking some of the potential latent in that vacant office makes sense," Kulpa said.

The Amherst supervisor says this area has to plan for a changing future and an extended Metro Rail would do that, even if he isn't counting on that extension as a done deal.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.