Light Rail Extension Study
The Buffalo Metro Rail, operated by Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), provides public transit rail service in the City of Buffalo along a single 6.4-mile long light rail line that runs for most of the length of Main Street in the City of Buffalo, from KeyBank Center in Downtown Buffalo to the south campus of the University at Buffalo in the northeast corner of the city. Though the plans were to create an extensive system that would spread throughout the city and suburbs, urban sprawl, population decline in the city, and lack of funding prevented that vision from ever being realized.
In his January 2017 State of the State address, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Phase II of the Buffalo Billion Initiative, a $500 million investment in Western New York. The plan included $215 million in investments in revitalization and smart growth, a strategy to address the decades-long sprawl in the Buffalo-Niagara region and build on the region’s assets. Within this strategy, Governor Cuomo allocated $5 million to complete necessary environmental reviews and some preliminary engineering needed for a prospective extension of the NFTA-Metro Rail. . With their completion, the NFTA will be positioned for the next phase of preliminary engineering, which will require additional state and local funding in order to qualify for future federal support.
Upon completion, the extension will provide a seamless connection from downtown destinations like Canalside and KeyBank Center and the central business district to large concentrations of employment and housing in Amherst and Tonawanda, as well as provide a direct connection with the University at Buffalo’s North Campus. It would also provide a direct, high capacity transit connection for the region’s largest concentrations of employment and housing. Extending NFTA-Metro Rail will have numerous economic impacts for the region including an increase in property values in the transit corridor, redevelopment of vacant and underutilized properties, reduced greenhouse gas emissions from transportation – the largest contributing sector, and attract people, including younger generations, who want to live and work in regions with high capacity transit that connects them to where they want to go.
In February 2018, the NFTA Board of Directors approved a contract with WSP USA Inc. to refine the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) for the extension’s path and complete the required environmental reviews. The NFTA and the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council worked with local municipalities to engage the community on the LPA and ways to maximize economic development opportunities and quality of life improvement along the existing Metro Rail corridor and the extension.
In December 2018, it was announced that the NFTA will receive nearly $778,000 from the Federal Transit Administration to study development potential along the proposed Buffalo-Amherst Metro Rail expansion.
In December 2019, work on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was completed with the document approved for public/agency review by the NFTA Board of Commissioners in January 2020. The NFTA plans to complete the SEQRA process by mid-2020.
In January 2020, the NFTA started the second phase of its Comprehensive Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Planning process which will identify and enhance opportunities for TOD along the Metro Rail corridor.
The extension would link established and emerging activity centers along the existing Metro Rail Line in the City of Buffalo with existing and emerging activity centers in the towns of Amherst and Tonawanda. The extension would better serve existing rail and bus riders, attract new transit riders, improve connections to/from Buffalo, Amherst, and Tonawanda and support redevelopment and other economic development opportunities. Importantly, it will serve to improve livability by increasing mobility and accessibility in communities throughout the project corridor.