Buffalo Rail Transit Projects Get Cold Shoulder from Feds

A proposed extension in Buffalo, New York, of a light rail line has failed to clear a key hurdle required by the Federal Transit Administration.

The $1.4 billion Metro Rail Amherst Light Rail Extension project did not make the list of projects eligible for a federal New Start grant.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, had been discussing the project for years with FTA.

Failure to make the New Starts lists means the project will be delayed at least another year and that its cost may increase.

FTA rarely funds projects that have not made its New Starts Program eligibility list.

The project would extend the existing 6.4-mile light rail line from its northern terminus at the University at Buffalo South Campus to Amherst through Tonawanda. The extension would link to UB’s North Campus.

Despite not making the FTA New Starts list a draft environmental impact study of the extension has been released and will be the subject of public hearings on Feb. 25 and 26.

Project supporters are hoping to have federal funding cover half the project cost with the other half shared by the state and local partners.

NFTA has also struck out three time in seeking to get federal funding to extend the light rail line to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Terminal in downtown Buffalo.

NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel said that was disappointing but that funding for the extension could come from other sources of capital funding being provided by the state.

“One way or another we will complete this project,” she said while vowing to find other sources of funding.

The agency had sought a federal BUILD grant for the D&LW terminal extension.

Minkel said the U.S. Department of Transportation said it was a “good project” but has signaled its preference for rural efforts, and roads and bridges over urban transit.

In the meantime, work has already begun to build track and overhead wires leading to the Metro Rail Yard and Shops complex on the DL&W’s ground floor as part of the overall $46 million project.

NFTA wants to create a new Metro Rail stop on the Buffalo River side of the station that would return rail passenger traffic to the facility for the first time since the Erie Lackawanna ceased intercity rail service there in 1962.

The Savarino Companies development firm has proposed creation of a public market and other uses for 80,000 square feet of internal and 60,000 square feet of outdoor space at the terminal.

Minkel said $19 million that it requested from Buffalo Billion funds that the state has already approved can be used for the project which means NFTA is about $6 million short of what it needs.

Minkel said the agency can work around that. “The $6 million we identified as nice to have but not essential,” she said.

Other funding sources will need to pay for such things as fixtures, flooring and lighting components.

This could include private foundations, historic tax credits and “other opportunities down the road.”

To finish the D&LW terminal project, NFTA will defer other work on its rail line, including planned projects to replace track and wires in the subway.

Minkel said those project will be completed eventually and that delaying the work will not compromise safety.

Buffalo has the only rail transit system in upstate New York.

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