BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Expanding the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s light rail system to Amherst is moving forward now that its Board of Commissioners has given the green light to a nearly $5 million environmental review.
The review is being funded by the New York State’s Buffalo Billion 2 initiative.
The plan calls for expanding the light rail system from the existing University Station in Buffalo onto UB’s north campus in Amherst.
“This isn’t something that we’re pushing on the community. As we go through this process, if this is something that the community doesn’t want, we’ll pull back on, but I do think we need to advance it,” said Kimberley Minkel, NFTA executive director.
But not everyone’s onboard with the Amherst expansion plan.
Congressman Brian Higgins would like to see the NFTA shift its focus to improving the rail system downtown.
“Providing a state-of-the-art with new cars and new track bed and an attractive corridor between Canalside and the Buffalo Niagara medical campus; it will give new purpose to, I think, a rail system that’s been looking for a purpose for 40 years,” said Higgins, who sent a letter to the NFTA addressing his concerns.
NFTA officials say the environmental review will also look at the existing system, and that it will take between 24 and 30 months.
According to Minkel, the next phase, project development, would be another year after that.
She says the cost of the Amherst expansion, based on early estimates, is around $1.2 billion.
The big question.
Will the money, especially the federal government’s end, be there when it comes time to build?
“Because I don’t have a crystal ball, and that’s a couple of years away, I think it’s wise to position ourselves. Get this done so that if the money becomes available we can move forward on the project,” said Minkel.
But if the NFTA moves on anything, Higgins, who commended the NFTA for advancing the redevelopment of the DL&W terminal, believes it should be improving the light rail experience downtown, instead of the Amherst extension.
“This isn’t threatening to anybody. This is a common-sense approach to sustaining the great momentum that we have in downtown Buffalo. If somebody’s got a better idea, advance it,” he said.
Minkel says she plans to reach out to Higgins and reassure him that the existing stations will be looked at to see if there are opportunities for improvement.