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NFTA Taking Next Step Towards Light Rail Extension

The next step in extending the light rail line into Amherst is out for bid. The NFTA is seeking a transportation planning environmental and engineering design consultant team to complete the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) along with up to 30 percent preliminary design and engineering for the proposed Amherst-Buffalo Corridor Light Rail Extension.

Earlier this year the NFTA chose a preferred alignment for the expansion. The Niagara Falls Boulevard Alternative alignment continues light rail service from the existing terminus at University Metro Rail Station extending underground along Bailey Avenue to a portal on Eggert Road between Bailey Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard where it would continue at-grade on Niagara Falls Boulevard to Maple Road to Sweet Home Road, onto and through University at Buffalo’s North Campus to Audubon Parkway where it would terminate near the I-990 interchange.

The alignment would begin at the South Campus Station and utilize the existing run out tunnel to Bailey Avenue. The concept alignment will continue underground below Bailey Avenue and Eggert Road to a portal in near Alberta Drive. Once at the surface, the concept alignment would utilize a dedicated guideway in the center of Niagara Falls Boulevard ROW to the Boulevard Mall.

North of Sheridan Drive, the guideway would be constructed within the existing Niagara Falls Boulevard median and would continue in the center of Maple Road to Sweet Home Road. The concept alignment would utilize dedicated guideway rail lines in the center of Sweet Home Road to a point near the Rensch Road Entrance to the UB North Campus.

On the campus the concept alignment would utilize surface lanes running parallel to and south of Putnam Way. The concept alignment would exit the UB campus utilizing a surface guideway and travel in the median of John James Audubon Parkway to the I-990. The LRT alignment would be located in the median of I-990 on newly constructed guideway to Crosspoint Business Park. New or widened bridges would be utilized at existing grade crossings. The guideway would be elevated on a new structure from the I-990 median into the Crosspoint Business Park.

By 2035, the extension is expected to add 22,000 daily boardings to the system, including 13,300 from UB. Estimated construction cost is $1.249 billion.

The consultant will complete the environmental review process, coordinate with and seek concurrence with the Federal Transit Administration during the project development process, and complete 30 percent design and engineering documents. The work is expected to take up to two years to complete. Bids are due October 13.

Written by Buffalo Rising

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  • Randy503

    If our city leaders were smart, they would have approved the Central Terminal for our train station. That would made an extension of the light rail system cheap and feasible. From there, it would be a fairly short and cheap extension to the airport. From Canalside to the airport, the NFTA owns the ROW and almost the entire line would be at grade. Therefore, the costs would be minimal, and it could have a stop at the Galleria. For an extra mile of track, it could terminate at ECC North Campus, thereby linking the ECC, the airport, the train station at CT, and Larkinville to downtown, creating a rail line that is needed and would be used regularly.

    That would mean the two ends of the light rail would terminate at the Amherst campus of UB, and the Amherst campus of ECC. The distance between ECC North and either UB South campus or North campus is only a few miles, meaning that we could actually have a circle line.

    The efficiencies would be enormous. It would be a modern-day Beltway railroad, with an inner and outer loop continuously traveling in opposite directions. It would link all the major transportation centers, and many of our colleges and universities, and the two major business areas of downtown and Amherst.

    Just sayin’

    • Larkinville will become the next Meatpacking District within 10 years. A station at Swan and Seymour connected to a rebuilt Larkin Administration Building will be another catalyst for the area and a junction point between the East Side, South Buffalo, Cheektowaga and downtown.

      • PaulBuffalo

        Buffaboy, the Larkin Administration Building will never happen. As far as Larkinville becoming the next NYC meatpacking district… well, dream on about that one, too. It’s very different from NYC and that’s a good thing. Larkinville will get better in its own way.

        • I agree with what you said, I mean that it’ll become its own version of the Meatpacking District, not be on the same playing field.

          I wonder why you don’t think the admin building can be rebuilt, or at least a building built that is reminiscent?

          • PaulBuffalo

            I’ll push back. There are no similarities between that NYC district and Larkinville. The meatpacking district is composed of high priced boutiques, very good restaurants, the High Line, and The Whitney.

            As far as the Larkin Administration building, there is no reason to build it. If a billionaire wants to fund it, great. Otherwise, it will never happen.

          • BeatHarvard

            Everyone on this forum seems to forget that Buffalo’s entire economy is the equivalent of a block of apartment buildings in Manhattan. There simply are not enough jobs/money at this point to justify such ambitious projects.

          • Randy503

            we would have had to start out with underground gay bars, which Larkinville never had.

    • sbrof

      that is the next logical step, but costs with Light Rail are never minimal.

      • Randy503

        I mean minimal in terms building light rail. Yes, it is always expensive.

    • No_Illusions

      You don’t need a train station to justify an expansion to the airport.

      Hopefully the NFTA can do a study for that corridor and get the ball rolling sooner rather than later.

      Once the Amherst expansion is completed that will be a good litmus test for other expansions but in 10 years Buffalo could be a completely different place. We should be planning now.

    • laldm109

      Transit extensions to airports rarely make sense economically. A lot of people go to the airport, but they only do so infrequently. Generally airport rail extensions are more vanity projects for politicians than actual viable projects in terms of projected ridership. Buffalo already has an express bus to the airport, and it is not very well-used.

      The real part of the Airport LRT extension that makes sense in Buffalo is that it would run through the heart of the east side, through a fairly dense residential neighborhood that has a very transit-dependent population. The east side has several very busy bus routes, which prove that rail would be heavily utilized. Connections to Larkin and Central Terminal/Broadway-Fillmore would also allow it to connect to current and future employment hubs, while providing a de-facto parking shuttle for Sabres games and maybe, in the future, the downtown stadium.

      The east side connection is what makes sense economically. The airport connection would be nice to have, but wouldn’t make economic sense to build on its own. Building the two together would be a nice solid project.

      • The Galleria is along the route too.

        • No_Illusions

          And several office parks

      • Randy503

        I agree. That’s why I supported the train station at CT, because then at least there is ridership, and it would link all our major transportation systems. I still think that is more important than a line up to Amherst. Mass transit for a city like buffalo just doesn’t make sense economically , but there are situations where it makes more sense than other options.

        • No_Illusions

          In terms of direct benefit, public transportation rarely makes economic sense.

          The real benefit is indirect.

          • Matt Gracie

            “In terms of direct benefit, public transportation rarely makes economic sense.”

            True enough. If it was directly profitable, government wouldn’t have to step in and do it — the private sector would.

      • Robert Seemueller

        Problem with WNY. One “line” not a “system” that serves a larger community. Repeat of previous planning mistakes.

    • OldFirstWard

      Instead of terminating the tunnel at Eggert and starting the surface run at NFB, why not continue the tunnel straight ahead for a couple more blocks and build a station directly below the Boulevard Mall and allow passengers to enter the mall without stepping outside? Give shoppers a reason to go to the Boulevard Mall and use that opportunity to create a renaissance there. The train does not need to interrupt a very busy traffic flow on NFB. Put people inside the mall, not a few hundred feet away on a platform.

      • $.

        • OldFirstWard

          Of course it’s more money, but the tunneling machine is already in the ground and instead of surfacing at Eggert Rd. and turning the corner at NFB for a straight run to another turn at Maple Rd, have the train surface in the north end parking lot of the mall and turn into Maple or make the turn onto Maple Rd. and surface there for an at grade run to UB.

    • Robert Seemueller

      Better idea. Buy everyone a pair of sneakers each year, a new bike and Uber ride discounts and save billions and you can do it now instead in 10 or 20 years!

    • Robert Seemueller

      Amherst LRT. BCT reconstruction. These are all purely political projects. Given WNY reluctance.It is the NY Governor that is the ultimate decider and funder. “Buffalo Billion’s” and yes we need it. Go for it Governor!

  • It will be interesting to see trains coming down I-990. The only other time I’ve seen this is in Northern Virginia along I-66.

    http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3157/2341616138_34e652128c.jpg

  • Matthew Ricchiazzi

    The route is ridiculous.

    • No_Illusions

      Maybe some of the stops at UB North need to go, but the NFTA is saving money by using public right-of-ways.

      Now they could have had a direct route down Millersport, but this route serves more apartments and student housing complexes and also supports the commercial district.

      Makes a lot of sense after you consider that this route is catering to students and you see the current amenities along the route.

      • Matthew Ricchiazzi

        The contorted nature of the route reduces the efficiency and efficacy of the system as a whole.

        https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2016/08/the-tortured-transit-routes-of-the-bus-system-design-straighter-is-greater/497246/?utm_source=SFFB

        • No_Illusions

          Great, but if we wanted a tunnel or buy a more direct right-of-way, this thing will cost us at least 3 billion.

      • Mr. B

        “Maybe some of the stops at UB North need to go . . .”

        Have to agree with this. I’ve taken a few people on rides from the airport to that area, both in Amherst and East Amherst, and if some of the residences are any indication, those living there don’t strike me as potential mass transit customers . . .

        .

        • No_Illusions

          I meant the stops on UB North Campus. You have 2 stops a 2 minute walk from each other.

          The other stops make sense if there’s going to be Park and rides. There also are already a number of business parks.

          I’d imagine in 10 years, that area of Amherst will be built up more.

    • The only way a Millersport corridor would’ve made sense was if the development along NF Blvd was instead along NY 263. Poor planning decisions 50 years ago ensure that this is not the case. The homeowners will not accept Elmwood Village style gentrification either.

    • Robert Seemueller

      The current Stampede Bus will be faster than the light rail! Progress? Go figure…

    • Robert Seemueller

      It will be faster to take the Stampede bus for the 90% of the current riders between the North and South Campus than use the light rail. Kind of what happened to all the riders on the 9, 10,12, &13 buses transferring to the subway after 1985. Their trips took longer downtown and the riders disappeared, preferring to drive and also as businesses also moved away from the subway .

  • Ero Rom

    How about an extension to the airport instead?

    • No_Illusions

      Why not both and throw in the Belt Line and the line to North Tonawanda too?

  • Cvepo

    This is great news! With all the development in NFB area of Amherst, this does make sense. I wonder if UB will meet back with NFTA to provide discounted NFTA passes like in the good ol’ days. I would have killed to be able to take the light rail from my apartment on Summer to North Campus instead of getting off at University and waiting for a bus!

  • laldm109

    A correction to this article: This phase of the LRT extension only goes to the interchange between I-990 and Audubon Pkwy. north of UB North. The part beyond there within the median of I-990, extending to Crosspoint Business Park, seems to be a “Phase 2”, which would happen at a future date. See the map of page 10 of this report: http://metro.nfta.com/TO/Documents/ExecSummaryTOAB.pdf .

    The executive summary on the NFTA Engineering website suggests this study is only for Phase 1: http://www.nftaengineering.com/Tools/Bidgetter/frontend/item.asp?type=0&size=2&lngDisplay=0&ItemID=280

    • Robert Seemueller

      This is a completely political decision by the NY Governor to either build a rail extension finally between the Campuses and possibly to Cross Point’s in another 10 years. Or 100 years…

  • Michael

    I am happy this is moving forward, but I think this route design may not perform as well as anticipated. It needs to go through more iterations before finding a better balance between the short term needs and long term development goals.

    1. Will it help the city grow? This extension caters to a suburban campus by connecting to a suburban mall first, and eventually downtown. Does this not diminish the potential success of retail development in downtown?

    2. It is inefficient. It is trying to be a campus shuttle and regional commuter line simultaneously. Park-n-riders may be irritated by the relatively slow pace passing through the North Campus and instead drive all the way downtown. Since transit oriented development is a reliable result of such an enormous infrastructural investment, is this solution a bit shortsighted? It seems to put too much emphasis on existing destinations and does little to envision the impact a train line can have on development patterns…

    • I agree with the “Campus shuttle” comment. Something about the stations around UB bothered me, and now I see what it is. Who wants to spend an extra 10 minutes going through UB if they’re going past it?

      The only way this would make sense is if they ran an express service, and not only do I not know how they work in general, but something tells me it’s not possible here.

    • No_Illusions

      UB North isn’t going anywhere and represents a large percentage of carless individuals. By giving them better access to the city proper, I think this will have an opposite effect. You’ll see more students entering the city.

      This also allows poor city residents access to thousands of low skilled jobs. Jobs they couldn’t conveniently get to before.

      This also allows city residents to get to jobs at the business parks along the route. Geico, Citibank, Blackrock Financial, etc.

      Also, Downtown retail already lost to the big box store. The retail that is growing Downtown and other city neighborhoods offer experiences not found in the big box store.

  • There is an opportunity to destroy the 56 year old Boulevard Mall and start from scratch, building something the likes of which this area has never seen before. If you look at some of the bigger cities with transit systems like these, including Austin, San Jose, Denver and D.C., they have done similar things in areas with a lot of foot traffic. One example that comes to mind is the station and area around Merrifield, VA.

    • Robert Seemueller

      Buffalo Boy. How’s the almost 50 year old Main Place Mall or DL&W Station doing for TOD? Complete failure is an understatement.

    • Robert Seemueller

      Buffalo has had over 30 years to redevelop the Main Place Mall and DL&W second floor as TOD. Now you want to promote sprawl going to Crosspointe and redeveloping the Boulevard Mall area?

  • No_Illusions

    Now if only Amherst and Tonawanda could get together and come up with a master plan to density this area.

  • Mike Dombrowski

    I’m 100% for light rain extension. In a perfect (funding available) world, it would go all the way to Lockport.

    But how about some lower hanging fruit? Why can’t we get a commuter line that runs from Downtown Buffalo to Niagara Falls (with a stop in the Tonawanda area along the way)? The tracks are already there, used by Amtrak. I’m not sure how busy it would be, but to try it out….it would be a LOT less money than a lot of other options. I can’t help but to think regular service, ESPECIALLY linking N.Falls with Canalside in the summer, would be popular eventually.

    I do agree with some other comments about population and density. For either light rail extension to Amherst or something to Niagara Falls to make sense, we really need more people living in those areas. As much as N.F. is a city, and Amherst is pretty populated…they both pale in comparison to the number of people living on popular rail lines in Boston, NY city, D.C. and other cities with good systems. I still want to see it happen here though.

    • Cvepo

      I don’t think Buffalo’s numbers and demand for a commuter rail are there. LRT at least hold merit because it can connect destinations. But just because the rail lines exist doesn’t mean a commuter rail is warranted. Traffic is too light and there is still abundant parking throughout the city for people to actually want/need to use the rail.

    • Robert Seemueller

      NFTA’s Route 60 Buffalo Niagara Falls bus is faster and more frequent than Amtrak and goes where most people want to go in Niagara Falls all for $2!

  • nuvaux

    They did say a “BILLION” dollars, no? A billion dollar shuttle, for students going from the edge of nowhere to actual nowhere. We all know it isn’t going to happen, and many know it should not happen. Elmwood, the West Side, North Buffalo – those are the places that need better transit lines, and might even make them successful. Put the money (fantasy money, in this case) where the people will make use of it, not in an abandoned Getzville corn field.

    • Josh Robinson

      You do realize the Metro “subway to nowhere” actually has very good ridership numbers for a system of it’s size, right?

      • Robert Seemueller

        Josh Robinson. Bufflalo’s Main St Subway carries 16,000 now of the 33,000 people it did when it opened in 1985. LA’s LRRT Long Beach line built at the same time carries twice or 200,000 daily when built. UB’s Stampede bus route carries more passengers than the subway daily, cheaper and more efficiently.

    • Robert Seemueller

      Give every proposed Amherst LRT rail rider a couple pairs of sneakers each year, a bicycle and Uber discounts and save the taxpayers billions. NFTA only envisions 10 minute “local” service to the campuses when currently the “Stampede” bus route provides 5-6 minute service with both local and express service options to more destinations NOW!

  • Robert Seemueller

    Only the cheapest solution will ever happen, this is Western NY. Tonawanda LRT had even the track in place and 30 years later a $5 million “rails to trails” was grudgingly built from forgotten Federal money that was approved the last day it could be used and without any local fund match. An Amherst LRT extension will require a Billion dollar plus local match and another billion dollar plus Federal match. Where will the larger subsidies come from to operate a “quality” LRT line to Amherst? Estimates of $15 million or more operating deficits annually? This area wants a free lunch pipedream. UB students currently pay 100% the cost of their Stampede bus thru their Student Activity fees.

  • Robert Seemueller

    In the time Buffalo built and abandoned an entire trolley system of several hundred miles from 1890 to 1950. The NFTA dreamed of building a 4 to 10 mile extension 1970-2030 in it’s wealthiest suburb.