Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) says two long-underway local transportation projects, extension of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Metro Rail to the DL&W and creation of a Buffalo to Amherst light rail corridor, are now at risk of not happening due to a federal budget proposal that eliminates the programs intended to support these projects.
“The DL&W can be under construction in 12-24 months but without funding, both of these project plans could end up back on the shelf,” said Higgins. “Shortchanging federal transportation funding is shortsighted. These projects go way beyond extending Metro Rail; as we’ve seen with Cars Sharing Main Street, federal investments of this type drive private sector interest and investment and can change the direction of struggling cities.”
The NFTA examined options to extend Metro Rail beyond its current last stop into the century-old Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Terminal (DL&W).
Congressman Higgins came out early in support of the NFTA’s “Buffalo River Plan” which allows Metro Rail cars to pull into the DL&W, delivering passengers to a stop on the ground floor adjacent to the Buffalo River and Canalside. The plan would convert the DL&W into a multi-modal transportation hub with automobile traffic along South Park Avenue, light rail in the DL&W, connections to bicycle and pedestrian trails along the water’s edge and boating opportunities in the Buffalo River. This extension also facilitates additional synergy between Canalside and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where a new Allen Street Metro Rail Station connected to the new University at Buffalo Medical School is now under construction.
The NFTA is moving forward with the project that would create a new platform in the first floor of the DL&W to accommodate the rail cars as well as construction of new stairs and elevator access to the second floor opening up 80,000 square feet of space for private sector investment.
The environmental review is scheduled for completion by the end of the summer with design work on the DL&W scheduled to commence in September and take about a year.
Governor Cuomo has pledged $20 million for the DL&W but the balance of the over $40 million project remains unfunded. DL&W with its multi-modal features is an ideal candidate for federal funding under the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which has funded local projects such as the Niagara Falls Train Station ($16.5M) and Cars Sharing Main Street in Buffalo ($32M). However the President has proposed complete elimination of the TIGER grant program.
Amherst Metro Corridor
In 2011 the NFTA was awarded a $1.2 million Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant for a study that examined ways to increase the ease, speed and convenience of travel along the Amherst – Buffalo Corridor. A second federal grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation totaling $640,765 was provided to the NFTA and its partners including the GBNRTC, Erie County, the City of Buffalo, the Town of Amherst, the University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus for continued examination of transit options.
After six years of study and community review the NFTA is nearly ready to issue the Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to do the environmental review and begin the final design. New York State is providing $5 million to cover this necessary pre-construction step, however funding to complete the design and for the construction phase is not yet in place. New Starts is the Federal Transit Administration’s program that supports new or extended light rail or commuter rail systems in the U.S. Funding for the New Starts program is slashed in the White House 2018 budget.