BUFFALO, NY - The NFTA Board of commissioners has approved spending $4.8 million on a study to expand metro rail to UB North, despite new reservations by Rep. Brian Higgins (D-South Buffalo) who previously championed idea.

The study, which will be funded by New York State through the Buffalo Billion 2 initiative, is expected to take up to 2-1/2 years to complete and will measure the environmental impact of expanding light rail along the Niagara Falls Boulevard corridor. Expanding the light rail system comes with an estimated price tag of $1.2 billion.

NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel said the benefits of expanding Metro Rail include a projected doubling in the number of riders on the system, a reduction in traffic congestion, and fewer emissions.

She also reminded commissioners that the expansion would have an estimated $1.7 billion economic impact and raise property values by about $300 million in the area around the proposed rail line.

Minkel told reporters she was "surprised" by Higgins new found opposition to the Amherst extension, claiming that he expressed no such sentiment when the two last spoke in December.

Higgins told WGRZ-TV he believes the climate in Washington has changed to the point that funding for mass transit projects, which once seemed promising, no longer does. In addition, continued job growth in downtown Buffalo, particularly near the medical campus along which the current subway system travels, makes him believe that funds would be better spent on improving the existing system.

Higgins still strongly supports planned restoration of the former DL&W railroad terminal and its incorporation into the light rail system.