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.
The LPA accepted at the conclusion of the Alternatives Analysis (AA) was 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.
During the conclusion of the AA, 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 have evaluated trade-offs between this alignment and the LPA by 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 alignment option using Kenmore Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard with a portal just north of Kenilworth Avenue, rather than running beneath Bailey Avenue was determined to be most beneficial is now the refined LPA. North of Eggert Road the alignment is the same as the original LPA described above. The refined LPA has been accepted by the NFTA Board of Commissioners, the study's Technical Advisory and Steering Committees and was reviewed with the general public at a meeting in December.
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, doctor's 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. Millions more in new development is planned or in progress in the corridor. UB's 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.
The Metro Rail Expansion Project is consistent with the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council's (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.
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.
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 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.
Bike and pedestrian facilities will be evaluated during the environmental process and conceptual engineering. As conceptual designs are developed, the goal is to convert the roadway corridors that LRT would operate in into a multi-modal corridor incorporating a complete streets concept, which includes bike and pedestrian facilities. Bike and pedestrian facilities leading to stations will be incorporated to ensure safe connections are provided to serve riders.
All existing and future Metro Rail cars can accommodate up to two bikes per car. Placement of bikes on each car are located at the forward and end of each car (in the area designated for wheelchairs). Riders must be in possession and holding onto their bike during the entire ride; riders should not utilize the kick stand while riding Metro Rail.
The NFTA is in the process of upgrading the fare collection system for Metro Rail and Bus system. The new system will include ticket vending machines, but also a variety of cashless payment options including smart cards and mobile ticketing using smart phone technology. The fare collection system in place for the existing Metro Rail will be assumed for the expansion project.
During the refinement of the LPA, one of the evaluation metrics was to identify cost savings measures. By placing the portal north of Kenilworth Avenue, the ability to reduce the length of the tunnel was possible due to the geo-technical conditions under Kenmore Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard. By reducing the length of the tunnel and eliminating an underground station, there was a significant cost reduction to the overall project. Extending the tunnel to Eggert Road would increase the length of tunnel, include an underground station, and increase the overall costs of the project.
The portal location just north of Kenilworth Avenue is located within a residential neighborhood primarily for the cost saving reasons cited above and because this section of Niagara Falls Blvd from Kenmore Avenue and Eggert Road is predominately residential there was no opportunity to avoid a residential area. During the environmental process the effects of the portal will be evaluated and mitigation measures identified to minimize the effects.
During the environmental process, station locations will be refined. Further evaluation to find the optimal station locations will include potential ridership, travel times between stations, existing and proposed land uses, changes in zoning, requirements for station size, and how the size could impact right-of-way needs.
In NFTA's 2010 Strategic Assessment Update, the Airport Corridor was identified as a good candidate for further study for major transit investment and GBNRTC's regional transportation plan, Moving Forward 2050, updated last year, includes high quality public transit from downtown Buffalo to the Airport as a project to be implemented. However, the Amherst Corridor Metro Rail expansion has always been a higher priority due to higher existing and potential ridership, a higher concentration of population and employment, consistency with regional plans for redevelopment and investment, and connecting two of the region's major economic development engines, University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The NFTA is advancing plans to extend Metro Rail to the DL&W terminal which could a first step toward a further expansion to the east toward the Airport.
A Millersport alignment was evaluated and compared to the Niagara Falls Boulevard alignment and several other options during the Alternatives Analysis completed in 2017. The Millersport option was not selected as the locally preferred alternative because it had lower projected ridership, served less commercial and retail area and fewer employment opportunities, had fewer transit oriented development opportunities and was not as consistent with local land use and comprehensive plans.
The NFTA has created a project website at www.NFTAMetroRailExpansion.com that will provide updates and information on the project as well as notices on future meetings. The website has a map and comment form for you to provide input. Input can also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.