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$1.46B price tag down the road for proposed Metro Rail extensions

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
A proposed Metro Rail station at Niagara Falls Boulevard and Decatur.

As planning for the Metro Rail extension across Amherst continues, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is starting to offer looks at what the line will look like.

For some of the small crowd at a public session in the University at Buffalo's Hayes Hall, the main attraction was a computer simulation of trains and cars traveling the route along Niagara Falls Boulevard to Maple Road, then over Sweet Home Road to UB and then north to a connection with Millersport Highway where it meets the I-990.

Public Transit Director Tom George explained one station proposal, at Audubon Town Center. All the stations are on the surface on the proposed route. George said the Audubon station would not have much parking, but would serve some major Amherst facilities.

"This location is specifically on the alignment between the university North Campus and the termination at the 990, provides access to a lot of community facilities here," he said. "It's the senior center. It's the library. It's the town court. So there's a certain amount of activities that occur here."

The major parking facility would be at the intersection of the I-990 and Millersport, to draw people from farther north and into Niagara County onto the rail line.

Credit Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
A proposed Metro Rail station at the Boulevard Mall.

The current estimate is that the overall project would cost $1 billion. Planners want an environmental impact statement completed early next year so they can go to Washington and seek money for engineering and design for the extension.

Last year, planners cut costs by cutting the length of the rail tunnel so all stations would be on the surface, at spots like near the main entrance to the Boulevard Mall in Amherst.

Cynthia said she lived in New York City and likes public transit.

"It's a great thing. I love riding a subway," she said. "You don't have to think. You just sit down and you get where you need to go. That's a relaxing thing...yeah."

However, Patricia Ostroski was skeptical that Americans and local residents will give up their cars for a ride with someone else at the wheel.

"You're not going to get Americans in love with their automobile into a transit system here," she said. "I mean, New York has a system, but it has been there for how many years? And we need something to connect all the way around. But it just can't just go one way down Main Street and over here, and when it just excludes everybody else, you got to get on a bus to get there one way."

Credit Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
A proposed Metro Rail station on the University at Buffalo North Campus.

While the long years of planning for a Metro Rail extension into Amherst continue, there is steel construction in sight for the shorter southern extension of the line. That would build a station inside the yards and shops of the rail system, so the first passengers would get on and off on a track along the Buffalo River and then head north.

"It would pull in on the water side of the DL&W," said NFTA Executive Director Kim Minkel. "People would disembark or embark and then that would be the starting point of the system that would then head north."

Minkel said it is a relatively low cost in rapid transit terms.

"The new station and the short extension and there's also a component of a stair tower that gets you access to the second level," she said. "The total estimate for that project is about $46 million."

Minkel said construction work will start soon on rehabbing track for the project, which will all take about two years.

"We'll start some construction in the end of this summer, some of the track work and catenary work, and then the station itself wouldn't start until next year," she said.

The money to do the work is not there yet, but this shorter southern extension would provide much better access to the second floor of the building, with the hope for major development upstairs and a potential bridge over South Park Avenue to connect to KeyBank Center.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
The work needed is apparent at downtown Buffalo's rail yard.

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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