Tim Kennedy may be willing to fight for a wider expansion of the light rail system

Senator Tim Kennedy — the newly appointed chairman of the Transportation Committee — will be overseeing the architecture of a massive omnibus spending bill designed to address New York City’s mass transit crisis.

Modernizing the New York City subway system and expanding its reach could cost between $30 billion and $50 billion, depending on the ambitiousness of the plan.

Local political operatives are encouraging Kennedy to fight for much more than $1 billion that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will be asking of the State to extend the Main Street Light Rail line to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst. Thet postulate that, if New York City is getting such a massive investment in its subway system, Western New York deserves a similarly bold investment in our surface light rapid rail system.

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The easiest and most obvious addition to the NFTA’s expansion plan would be a Tonawanda connection, given that the existing system’s LaSalle Station is already designed to accommodate it, and the entirety of the needed right of way is already publicly owned.  Simply laying the track could be accomplished in a relatively inexpensive and speedy fashion, perhaps costing less than $400 million.

If the State declines to build a new football stadium in downtown Buffalo, that billion dollars could be productively repurposed for a light rail extension to the Bills’ current stadium in Orchard Park, by way of the Outer Harbor and South Buffalo.  Such investment would make sense, given the wide expanses of undeveloped land that exists along the Outer Harbor.  Mass transit infrastructure would catalyze high-density private sector development.

The third expansion project that urban planners have been advocating is an Airport connection.  While many have advocated for a route that would include Larkinville and the Old Central Terminal over the years, that line would not properly accommodate commuters traveling to and from the Medical Corridor.  A better, more densely populated route would branch off Main Street at Best Street, traveling to Walden Avenue, and pivoting at the railroad right of way that runs adjacent to the Walden Galleria and the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is one of the most costly and bloated public agencies in the nation.  It costs five times more to lay a mile of track in New York than anywhere else in the world.  It’s unclear how a transit bill might affect the Transit Workers’ Union, a powerful downstate constituency.  What is clear is that State investment in Western New York transit projects could earn a lot more bang for the public buck.

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