The Niagara Frontier Transit Metro System, Inc. (Metro), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) is proposing to expand high quality transit in the Buffalo-Amherst-Tonawanda Corridor. The build alternatives being considered include a light-rail transit (LRT) extension and a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. Both alternatives would essentially follow the same alignment and would be primarily at-grade. Ten stations, two with park & ride facilities and an overnight storage and light maintenance facility are proposed for both alternatives. The Project is included in the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council's (GBNRTC) 2050 long-range plan as regionally significant.
The Buffalo-Amherst-Tonawanda Corridor Transit Expansion Project is the culmination of decades of community conversations, planning projects and state and local investment. In over 30 years of night and day operation, Metro Rail has supported 200 million trips to work, concerts, sporting events, doctor's appointments, classes and more. In recent years, the list of destinations along the Metro Rail line has expanded, with billions of dollars of investment transforming downtown and the rail corridor. Millions more in new development is planned or in progress in the corridor. UB's three campuses are a vital engine of the region's economy. The expansion of high-quality transit to Amherst and Tonawanda would provide easy access to destinations for many years to come and offers a significant opportunity to create jobs, connect residents to jobs and improve the quality of life throughout the region.
The Buffalo-Amherst-Tonawanda Corridor Transit Expansion Project is consistent with the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council's (GBNRTC) Moving Forward 2050 Plan. This is the region's long-range transportation plan which aims to use transportation investment to strengthen communities and focus growth where we already have infrastructure, create economic development and support work force areas.
As a follow-up to and in support of the plan, GBNRTC and NFTA recently completed a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) study to bring current riders, community members, businesses, developers, and local officials together to shape growth and the built environment around current and potential future Metro stations and along the Buffalo-Amherst-Tonawanda Transit Expansion corridor.
The project is also consistent with One Region Forward, a highly collaborative plan and process designed to build on the Buffalo-Niagara region's momentum toward sustainable development and set the stage for a more vital future for our region.
Transit is a regional asset and many people currently use Metro's existing transit system. Improvements would make the service more attractive and accessible. The goals of the Buffalo-Amherst-Tonawanda Corridor Transit Expansion Project include economic development, community development and environmental sustainability.
Since the release of the Draft EIS performed in accordance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) in 2020, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has been designated as the Lead Federal Agency for the Proposed Project's environmental review process. As a result, the Proposed Project must meet and follow the environmental review procedures set forth under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As part of this process, the FTA has requested a second Build Alternative, a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, be evaluated in addition to the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Build Alternative. With the completion of the federal environmental review process, the NFTA will be positioned to advance the Proposed Project into the FTA's Capital Investment Grant (CIG) process and apply for federal capital funding to support project construction.
Two build alternatives, a LRT expansion and a BRT system have been identified for the Proposed Project. The LRT Build Alternative is an approximately 7-mile extension of Metro's existing light rail transit (Metro Rail). The LRT extension would be primarily at-grade, except for a 0.8-mile underground segment from the existing Metro Rail University Station to Niagara Falls Boulevard and at the intersection of Maple Road and Sweet Home Road. Ten stations are proposed, two with park & ride facilities, and an overnight storage and light maintenance facility located near the end of the line. The trackway would be configured with two tracks - one for northbound service and one for southbound service, generally within the existing roadway right-of-way.
The BRT Build Alternative would provide transit service north from the existing Metro Rail University Station for approximately 7-miles along the same at-grade alignment as the LRT Build Alternative with the same number of stations in the same locations. However, a transfer would be required between the existing Metro Rail operations at University Station to the BRT service. A new BRT vehicle storage and maintenance facility would also be required.
The LPA accepted at the conclusion of the 2017 Alternatives Analysis (AA) was generally defined as extending light rail service from the existing Metro Rail terminus at University Station, continuing underground along Bailey Avenue to a portal on Eggert Road where it would continue at-grade or on the surface in Niagara Falls Boulevard to Maple Road to Sweet Home Road, onto the UB North Campus then along Audubon Parkway where it would end near the I-990.
During the conclusion of the AA, Metro received feedback from various stakeholders, municipal jurisdictions, and the public regarding an alignment option exiting the University Station under Kenmore Avenue and entering onto Niagara Falls Boulevard prior to Eggert Road. Before formally initiating the environmental analysis, NFTA and its consultant team have evaluated trade-offs between this alignment and the LPA by comparing order of magnitude costs, overall constructability, operating costs, right-of-way impacts, travel times, traffic, accessibility, and other criteria to determine which alignment would be most beneficial.
The alignment option using Kenmore Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard with a portal just north of Kenilworth Avenue, rather than running beneath Bailey Avenue was determined to be most beneficial and is now the refined LPA. North of Eggert Road the alignment is the same as the original LPA described above. The refined LPA was accepted by the NFTA Board of Commissioners, the study's Technical Advisory and Steering Committees and was reviewed with the general public at a meeting in December 2019.
NFTA's Transit Development Plan and GBNRTC's regional transportation plan, Moving Forward 2050, identify other corridors such as the Airport and Southtowns Corridors as having potential for high quality transit expansion and planning for those corridors will be initiated at the appropriate time in the future. However, the Buffalo-Amherst-Tonawanda Corridor is the highest priority for transit expansion due to higher existing and potential future transit ridership, a larger concentration of population and employment, more opportunity for future development and the ability to connect three of the region's major economic development engines, University at Buffalo, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and downtown Buffalo. NFTA's current project to extend Metro Rail service to a new passenger station in the DL&W trainshed is a significant first step toward future rail expansion to the south and east.
Bike and pedestrian facilities will be evaluated during the environmental process and conceptual engineering. As conceptual designs are developed, the goal is to convert the roadway corridors that either Build Alternative would operate in into a multi-modal corridor incorporating a complete streets concept, which includes bike and pedestrian facilities. Bike and pedestrian facilities leading to stations will be incorporated to ensure safe connections are provided to serve riders.
NFTA's existing Metro Rail cars and buses can accommodate up to two bikes per vehicle. It is assumed that future Metro Rail cars and BRT vehicles would meet the same accommodations. For further information relating to bikes on buses and Metro Rail, visit https://metro.nfta.com/programs/bikes-on-metro
The NFTA is in the process of upgrading the fare collection system for Metro Rail and Bus system. The new system will include ticket vending machines, but also a variety of cashless payment options including smart cards and mobile ticketing using smart phone technology. The fare collection system in place for the existing Metro Rail will be assumed for the expansion project.
The NFTA has created a project website at www.NFTAMetroTransitExpansion.com that will provide updates and information on the project as well as notices on future meetings. The website has a map and comment form for you to provide input. Input can also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.