The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) is planning an expansion of the Buffalo Metro light rail system from the City of Buffalo into the Towns of Amherst and Tonawanda, New York. The first phase of this multi-year project will allow NFTA and our consultant team to refine the locally-preferred alternative (LPA) which was accepted by the NFTA in January 2017 at the conclusion of the Amherst- Buffalo Alternatives Analysis and assess the environmental, socio-economic, and fiscal impacts of that alternative. At the end of this process, we will issue an environmental impact statement (EIS) incorporating agency and public feedback about specific impacts and the methods preferred for mitigating these impacts and seek a record of decision from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on the overall project. This first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by June 2020. A record of decision from the FTA would then allow us to seek entry into the FTA’s Capital Improvement Program (CIG) Project Development phase, leading to final design and engineering then construction of the project.
This alternative is generally defined as extending light rail service from the existing Metro Rail terminus at University Station, continuing underground along Bailey Avenue to a portal on Eggert Road where it would continue at-grade or on the surface in Niagara Falls Boulevard to maple Road to Sweet Home Road, onto the UB North Campus then along Audubon Parkway where it would end near the I-990. See Figure 1-1 Project Map for alignment and proposed station locations.
During the conclusion of the Alternatives Analysis NFTA received feedback from various stakeholders, municipal jurisdictions, and the public regarding an alignment option exiting the University Station under Kenmore Avenue and entering onto Niagara Falls Boulevard prior to Eggert Road. Before formally initiating the environmental analysis, NFTA and our consultants are evaluating trade-offs between this alignment and the LPA, as shown on Figure 1-1. The evaluation is being coordinated with the Projects Technical Advisory and Steering Committees and is comparing order of magnitude costs, overall constructability, operating costs, right-of-way impacts, travel times, traffic, accessibility, and other criteria to determine which alignment would be most beneficial. The results will be shared with the public at an early December informational meeting, and a recommendation on the preferred alignment will be made by end of the year.
The Metro Rail Expansion Project into Tonawanda and Amherst is the culmination of decades of community conversations, planning projects and state and local investment. In 30 years of night and day operation, Metro Rail has supported 200 million trips to work, concerts, sporting events, doctors appointments, classes and more. In recent years, the list of destinations along the Metro Rail line has expanded, with billions of dollars of investment transforming downtown and the rail corridor. Notable among these destinations are UBs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, HarborCenter, Canalside and The John R. Oishei Childrens Hospital. Millions more in new development is planned or in progress in the corridor. UBs three campuses are a vital engine of the region's economy. Metro Rail expansion will provide riders with easy access to destinations for many years to come and offers a significant opportunity to create jobs, connect residents to jobs and improve the quality of life in the towns of Amherst and Tonawanda, the city of Buffalo and throughout the region. As editorialized in the Buffalo news, "Buffalo is on the rebound and improved transportation will keep it moving ahead. The benefits of extending Metro Rail will be worth taking up the challenge".
The Metro Rail Expansion Project is consistent with the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Councils (GBNRTC) Moving Forward 2050. This is the region's long range transportation plan which aims to use transportation investment to strengthen communities and focus growth where we already have infrastructure, create economic development and support work force areas.
As a follow-up to and in support of the plan, GBNRTC recently completed a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) study to bring current riders, community members, businesses, developers, and local officials together to shape growth and the built environment around current and potential future Metro Rail station areas and along the Amherst- Buffalo transit corridor. Results of the study are available at www.GBNRTC.org
The project is also consistent with One Region Forward, a highly collaborative plan and process designed to build on the Buffalo-Niagara Region's momentum toward sustainable development and set the stage for a more vital future for our region.
Also, throughout the analysis, planning and design of the project we will coordinate with existing local municipal plans, zoning ordinances, etc. for consistency and to achieve consensus and maximum benefit of the project.
NFTA recognizes that a successful plan requires involvement, input and consensus from a broad array of stakeholders. An Agency Coordination and Public Involvement Plan have been developed to formalize NFTAs commitment to solicit meaningful input and engage the public throughout the project. A Technical Advisory Committee, Steering Committee and Project Advisory Committee will meet regularly to provide the Project Team with guidance and feedback throughout the next two years.
The two Plans mentioned above include a comprehensive list of agencies, governments and organizations that NFTA is seeking to involve or cooperate with on the project. The list includes agencies and governments at the federal, state, regional and local level as well as specific stakeholders and community organizations that NFTA has identified as having a strong interest in the Project. NFTA will be seeking public input on the impacts that the Metro Rail Expansion could potentially have using the engagement tools described in the Public Involvement Plan including legally-required public hearings but also open houses, pop-up engagements, online surveys and more.
Transit is a regional asset and many people currently use our existing transit system. Improvements will only make the service more attractive and accessible. The goals of the Metro Rail Expansion Project include economic development, community development and environmental sustainability.
Economic development goals include linking key activity and employment centers with efficient and high-quality transit service such as UB campuses, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and developments in Amherst, Tonawanda and Buffalo, spurring transit-oriented development throughout the corridor, and redevelopment of key commercial areas such as Boulevard Mall and Northtown Plaza as well as improving business recruitment in the area by making the Tonawanda-Amherst-Buffalo Corridor more attractive to employers through the promotion of a world-class transit system to move workers.
Goals for community development include stabilizing property values where they are falling, and where they are already stable, helping values to increase. Further goals are geared to, providing neighborhoods with relief from parking overflow generated by major employers like the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and events like Buffalo Sabres home games and better serving transit-dependent populations such as seniors and job-seekers with low incomes.
Goals aimed at furthering environmental sustainability including serving increased travel demand generated by development in Amherst, Tonawanda, and Buffalo without increasing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as well as helping to meet sustainability goals written into regional, state and local planning documents like the Town of Amherst’s and Tonawanda’s Comprehensive Plans.
Potential impacts from the Metro Rail Expansion Project include over 20 different impact areas ranging from noise and visual impacts to financial and socio-economic impacts. To assess each effect, two scenarios will be compared: one in which the project is built and one in which it is not built (the No Action Alternative). An analysis year of 2040 will be used, which includes the anticipated year of completion (2030) and a reasonable planning horizon to evaluate long term environmental consequences. If an impact is deemed in need of mitigation, strategies to mitigate the impact will be developed. View the 2018 Environmental Methodology Report.
Mitigation strategies can take a number of forms but in essence they strive to avoid, minimize, rectify, reduce or compensate for impacts. For example, light rail operations may cause vibrations that could have an effect on sensitive equipment in surrounding areas. A mitigation strategy to avoid this impact would be to use specific types of track developed to suppress vibrations.
Each mitigation strategy will consider several factors including the effects on transit operations, cost, compliance with existing laws and regulations and acceptability of the strategy to the community.
Maybe. An Expansion of Metro Rail service would provide NFTA with an opportunity to rethink several bus routes serving Tonawanda and Amherst. However, we are not far enough along in the project to make determinations about what these specific changes might be. Please check back with the website in the future for a broader discussion of these potential changes.
The Environmental Impact Statement is expected be completed with a Record of Decision by the mid-2020. The timeline for subsequent phases of the project are estimated as follows:
- FTA Project Development - 2020-2022
- Final Design & Engineering - 2022-2025
- Construction - 2026-2030
- Service begins - 2030
The total cost of the project is currently estimated to be $1.2 billion dollars (in 2014 dollars). The current phase of the project is funded by a $5 million dollars incentive grant from New York State and Empire State Development. Funding for subsequent phases will be a combination of federal, state and ocal grants and financing. We will look to innovative funding opportunities and will work to leverage private sector participation as well. One goal of the environmental impact statement is to identify strategies for obtaining capital and operational funding, to analyze potential risks, and to rate the project using the New Starts five-star scale. New Starts is a federal funding program for light rail projects.
The Project Team welcomes your comments and questions and will send out information as it is updated and available. To submit a comment or question or if you would like to receive project communications, please complete the form on the following page.
The Project Team welcomes your comments. To submit a comment or question or if you would like to receive project communications, please complete the form on the following page.