BUFFALO, NY- The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is ready to embark on an important next-step, regarding a potential expansion of its Metro Rail into Amherst.
However, the head of the transit agency is stressing that even the possibility of an expansion is still very far from certain.
Outside of the color scheme of some of its cars, not much has changed for Metro Rail since it began over a quarter century ago. It still runs its same, 6.1-mile course between downtown and University at Buffalo south campus.
Calls to expand it are as old as the system itself.
Two On Your Side first reported on the NFTA's plans to embark (for the first time in more than a decade) on studies to look at the potential for expanding the rail service in to Amherst back in in March of 2011.
Now, Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel says the NFTA, having secured a federal grant, is ready to take the additional step of conducting an "Alternative Analysis" study on improving means of mass transit in the Buffalo- Amherst corridor.
The alternative analysis will cost $1.4 million and require nearly two year to complete, according to Mink, who explained that it is a required step under federal transportation guidelines should significant funds eventually be sought for an expansion.
In that case, Minkel says the federal government would not only have to be convinced the idea had been thoroughly vetted and studied, but also that there was a demonstrable need, before providing what would almost certainly be hundreds of millions of dollars in required aid.
"You have to position yourself so that you're ready to respond," Minkel told WGRZ-TV.
However, Minkel stresses this alternative analysis means exactly that.
It will analyze all alternatives, and when concluded, may show the Buffalo Amherst corridor would be better served by improvements not involving metro rail, such as better and more frequent bus service.
Among the factors favoring public transit improvements there --including the possible expansion of metro rail-are the continued high price of gas driving more of us to seek alternatives means of transportation, the growth of the downtown medical corridor largely tied to UB, and four more years in office for a President who champions mass transit and reducing carbon emissions.
The biggest threat to de-rail such improvements may be the so-called fiscal cliff, and the potential for federal budget cuts.
While the future may be full of uncertainties, Minkel said that should not stand in the way of mapping the region's future transportation needs.
"That's why we do the study...to see what it shows. Two years from now when the study is complete, we'll have a better idea of what's going on," she said.
The existing metro rail cost a half billion dollars when it was completed in the mid 1980's...how much might an expansion cost? Other than to say a "substantial" amount, Minkel wouldn't venture a guess. She says it's far too early for anyone to able to deduce, especially because we're not even close to determining whether it should be above ground, below ground, where it run, for how far, or even if it should be expanded in the first place.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bob Mancuso.
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