BUFFALO, NY - "The original intentions were that it would always go farther than it is today," said Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel, regarding the Metro Rail which began service in 1985.
But outside of the color scheme of some of the cars, not much has changed for the light rail system in its more than quarter-century of operation, still running its on a single, six mile spur between downtown and the University at Buffalo South Campus.
Calls to expand the Metro Rail are as old as system itself.
Now the NFTA is in what Minkel describes as the very "preliminary" first steps of exploring the "possibly" of an extension.
Minkel recalled that the last real study for an extension was completed a decade ago.
"The results of that study, based mostly on the population and the economy, were that it didn't make sense at that time," Minkel told
"But a couple things have changed since then. We've seen tremendous growth at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, University at Buffalo has talked about their 20-20 expansion plan...there's been more development at the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus, and of course fuel prices are going up. We need other forms of transportation, so it makes sense to look at rail," Minkel said.
Equally if not more important, according to Minkel, is the higher importance the federal government is now placing on funding "greener" forms of transportation...as opposed to a decade ago, when it concerned itself more with whether or not such projects made economic sense.
Minkel says the NFTA has embarked upon a feasibility study the results of which --if favorable-- would lead to a more detailed "alternative analysis", which would then focus on possible location of expanded routes.
She stressed any actual expansion of metro rail would still be years away, and wouldn't even venture a guess as to what it might cost.
However Minkel, 45, who took over as Executive Director of the region's public transit system three months ago believes the odds are "pretty good" that Metro Rail will expand at some point in her lifetime.
"The criteria has changed...environmental impact is a larger criteria when it comes to new starts initiatives, and .
rail is a very clean efficient way of traveling," she said.
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