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Citizens group showcases plans for rail extension from East Side to the airport

Citizens for Regional Transit

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is doing extensive and expensive planning for extending the Metro Rail deep into Amherst. An active transit-supporter group is suggesting much of that same research could be used to plan another extension, from downtown to Buffalo Niagara International Airport and beyond.Citizens for Regional Transit has long campaigned for extensions of the rail line, a line which has not changed in almost four decades.

Now, the NFTA is building a short extension around the side of the KeyBank Center to serve future development in the old DL&W Terminal. There is also planning for an extension of the current line out to Audubon in Amherst.

The citizens group is suggesting a $1.4 billion line to the airport, mostly using existing surface rail rights-of-way. Citizens for Regional Transit President Douglas Funke told the meeting at the Merriweather Library that the group recognizes the way transit costs rise, so their estimate includes 30% for contingencies.

"In terms of cost of the line, the numbers that I show use $75 million a mile, which is what we used," Funke said. "We thought that was reasonable and cheapest. Very recent light rail was in Minneapolis is $90 million a mile. Go back further, they go down to 20. But that's a long time ago. That's old data."

Fillmore District Common Councilmember Dave Franczyk said there was heavy use of public transit when he was growing up on the East Side.

"Fifty-thousand people lived in that neighborhood," he said. "You know that has radically emptied out. At that time, because of that density of population, there was heavy uses of buses, heavy use of the bus."

School Board Member Terrance Heard questioned a rail line through an area needing economic development.

"Green Code, the purpose was to build walkable neighborhoods and that's totally opposite of the design for the train, what's intended," Heard said. "We do have walkable neighborhoods. What we should have is jobs within the community, jobs within the neighborhood, and none of that has been addressed and how can we go further addressing those issues."

The 13-mile proposal would provide rail service to Larkinville in South Buffalo, the Central Terminal downtown, the Galleria in Cheektowaga, the airport in Cheektowaga and out to Transit Road in Depew. It would connect with the current line.

If the Amherst extension were built, that would mean someone on the East Side could have a one-seat ride to the University at Buffalo in Amherst or someone else could ride to a job on the East Side or downtown or within the suggested stations across the East Side and Cheektowaga.

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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