BUFFALO, NY - Governor Andrew Cuomo is now on board with the idea of expanding Metro rail.
He said so in his state of the state address at the State University at Buffalo on Monday, while talking about programs he believes should be included in the next phase of his “Buffalo Billion” economic development plan.
"Proposal two is support the extension of Buffalo's Light Rail to Amherst,” said the Governor, to thunderous ovation exceeded only by that garnered when he expressed his desire to provide taxpayer funded tuition for middle lower income students at SUNY schools.
“It didn’t surprise me,” said NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel, when commenting on the applause the Governor received for supporting metro rail expansion.
“We've been hearing from the community an overwhelming support for expanding the light rail system," Minkel told WGRZ-TV.
It never hurts to have friends in high places, and Minkel says the NFTA is “appreciative” of the Governor’s support for a plan expected to take another important step forward at the next NFTA board meeting on January 26.
Minkel also believes the Governor's now public support will help the NFTA in seeking federal funds.
"After we would complete an environmental and preliminary design to advance the project, then that will get reviewed by federal transit (officials) to make sure the project scores high enough to get into the federal program," she said, while noting funds of big ticket transit items are the source of fierce competition between communities seeking them.
The process just to design an expanded system and obtain funding for it is a multiyear undertaking.
"And then you start construction, however long that might take, assuming all the funding's in place," Minkel said.
The concept of linking the University at Buffalo North and South Campuses through enhanced public transit has been studied for several years, and originally involved 36 different options including both light rail and improved bus service, over a variety of different routes.
But now, Minkel says the recommendation to be made to the NFTA board later this month will be for extending the light rail, with the preferred corridor being along Niagara Falls Boulevard.
"If you look at the area, and all the businesses it would serve, it would provide more stops and higher ridership potential. That would be the driving force," Minkel said.
Of course, what would ultimately drives the train would be money. And plenty of it.
"As a ballpark figure, you're probably talking over one billion dollars,” said Minkel, when asked to estimate the cost of expanding light rail along the preferred route.
Cuomo also threw his support behind the NFTA's plans to renovate the 100 year old DL&W terminal at the foot of Main Street downtown, and extend light rail service a short distance from there into the Cobblestone District.