The Democratic Party has taken control of the State Senate — a chamber that has been controlled by the Republicans for decades, excepting a brief period in 2008, before a leadership coup paralyzed the chamber until 2010 elections.
Tim Kennedy — Western New York’s only Democrat Senator — was given an extraordinary position that is being widely interpreted as ‘an economic gift for Western New York’ being bestowed by the newly triumphant Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Beginning in January, Kennedy will chair the Transportation Committee during a session that is expected to approve multi-billion dollar investment projects aiming to fix the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which has been dilapidating in recent years. That spending could reach as much as $30 billion.
With a Western New Yorker managing that spending, it would assure that the region has an influential voice at the table. That could prove pivotal in securing the $1 billion necessary to extend Buffalo’s light rapid rail system to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst.
Some urban planners and economic development advocates hope that Kennedy will fight hard to secure an additional $1.2 to $2 billion needed to build a light rail link from Canalside to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga and to extend the Main Street light rail line to the Outer Harbor.
Political operatives and economic development officials at Empire State Development are privately encouraging Kennedy to include billions in transportation projects for Western New York in an omnibus spending bill for the MTA.
Planners have long held aspirations for new highway access points along the Thruway, the removal of the Scajaquada Expressway, the restoration of the Humbolt Parkway, and the realignment of the I-190 away from the Niagara River.
“Can you imagine what $5 billion in mass transit infrastructure spending over four years would do for our construction and real estate industries? We would have full-employment in construction for the next two decades,” asserts one planner.
“It will only take five years to design and build the infrastructure, but that will catalyze a residential transit-oriented development boom that would last for decades,” he adds.
It’s unclear how aggressively Kennedy will advocate for Western New York’s transportation infrastructure — and even less certain that he is willing to take a progressive new urbanists’ approach to its design.
Observers think that this could be the turning point for the region’s economy — but only if Kennedy is able to skillfully parlay this position into a substantial (and calculated) spending for Western New York.