Expansion of Buffalo's Light Rail Line Could Supercharge University, Downtown

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An extension to Buffalo's NFTA Metro Rail, announced Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his Western New York-specific State of the State address as part of the proposed Buffalo Billion¬≤, would become the first expansion on the light-rail line since construction finished on the 6.2-mile track back in 1986.

The NFTA Metro Rail travels up Main Street from downtown to University at Buffalo's South Campus, and that's all. The line would extend its northernmost point from there to UB's North Campus in Amherst.

The rail's southernmost point, meanwhile, would move to the old Lackawanna & Western Railroad Terminal, which will be developed and turned into a transportation hub to reinvigorate the Cobblestone District.

Kimberly Minkel, NFTA executive director, says any money from the state at this point would be for environmental studies and planning, and the actual construction would not be cheap.

"The existing system that was constructed over 35 years ago was over $500 million, at the time," Minkel said. "While it hasn't been designed yet, it would be safe to say it would be twice that, at least."

That extension could potentially be worth the price, thanks to ongoing development at both the university and downtown.

"Connecting UB to UB and right now, it's disconnected, so how do faculty get to classes on the North Campus or labs on the North Campus and then back down to the medical corridor?" asked Fred Floss, SUNY Buffalo State economics professor.

"The Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus is projecting almost 17,000 folks working there. Bringing them there from the Amherst Corridor is something a rail extension could do," said Minkel.

Minkel of the NFTA believes desire for public transportation is increasing and this extension could double its ridership as well as attract people to the city.

"Many millennials prefer to locate in communities that have a robust transit system. They don't want to own a car," said Minkel.

Plans for a metro-rail extension are in the design phase. Minkel hopes to have those completed and to begin construction in the next five years.

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