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NFTA hires consultants to plan Metro Rail extension

Metro rail line above ground on Main Street, downtown Buffalo
File photo
Metro rail line above ground on Main Street, downtown Buffalo

Rejecting advice from Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) to shrink its plans, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority board Thursday voted to hire aconsultant to plan extensions of Metro Rail.

The NFTA said the $5 million environmental study might take three years and then more years for final design - all if Washington, DC pays - and around 10 years from now before the Metro Rail extension would be running trains. Extending Metro Rail is a major project of Buffalo Billion II.

The authority board voted to go ahead with planning south and north extensions, south into Buffalo's Cobblestone District and north through the University at Buffalo's North Campus and into Audubon. Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa said it is really good for his town and its future.

The route would run underground from University Station to near Bailey Avenue and Eggert Road, then along Niagara Falls Boulevard to Maple Avenue, to Sweet Home and through the campus to Audubon.

"To be able to pull people living in Amherst to their jobs in the medical campus, not just sort of the hourly wage jobs, but professionals being able to pull people to the medical school and, vice versa, to be able to provide people working in the Town of Amherst access for their commute from other places, that's important," Kulpa said.

Higgins, however, suggested focusing on a much shorter extension, past the DL&W station behind KeyBank Center and into Buffalo's Cobblestone District. The South Buffalo Democrat said the authority needs to spend more money and effort to make the subway worth riding.

"When you look at mass public transportation in Buffalo right now and Western New York, it's suboptimal and that just is a result of lack of investment," Higgins said, "and I think we need ultra-modern cars, I think we need a new track bed, I think we need a better experience than what we have right now to enhance ridership."

Higgins says the Amherst extension would cost at least $1 billion, but likely much more, and he is not sure that is a wise investment of limited cash.

The approved consultant is the Montreal-based WSP, which describes itself as a global engineering firm with 100 offices around the world. It notes major design projects, including expansions of the New York and Los Angeles transit systems, One World Trade Center and the US Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, DC.

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.
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