Congratulations to The News for the great article on Metro Rail in the Jan. 8 edition. We couldn't agree more with writer Peter Lombardi when he says, "An expanded transit system with a truly metropolitan rail system has the potential to serve as the framework for a sounder development strategy."
Lombardi is absolutely right when he says Metro Rail was designed to connect downtown with the University at Buffalo's new suburban campus. However, when he says "Metro Rail was an idea born in Albany," that's not correct.
Banker Lewis G. Harriman had been a prime mover in trying to get the new UB campus located downtown or on the waterfront. When his group's efforts failed in favor of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's preferred Amherst site, Harriman and his group formed what is now Citizens Regional Transit Corp. to push for rapid transit service from downtown to the new campus. This would be a second-best solution in his view, but at least the students wouldn't be totally separated from downtown. Many believe that if this had happened, downtown retail business still would be thriving today.
With a big assist from Congressman Jack Kemp, federal funding for 80 percent of the project was obtained. The state supplied the other 20 percent.
However, some very vocal activists forced the planners to put the line underground, almost doubling its cost. Therefore, it had to be terminated at the South Campus instead of the North Campus, as originally intended.
By taking thousands of cars off the road daily, rail service could substantially reduce the need for bigger highways, not to mention road maintenance. Air pollution could be reduced and so could this area's dependence on foreign oil.
Lombardi is also right when, referring to more recent times, he says, "With intense competition for a limited supply of money, federal officials favor projects with huge local funding commitments." He cites Denver, where voters recently approved an added sales tax that will finance 120 miles of new rail line.
We submit that an extra tax would not be necessary here if state and county officials could be persuaded to earmark a fraction of the billions spent on highways for construction, operation and maintenance of at least one new Metro Rail line. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's consultant, Parsons-Brinckerhoff, designated the downtown-to-airport alignment on existing surface rail lines as the most viable.
One other inaccuracy: "Most of the underground stations are surrounded by little more than fast-food joints." Wrong!
The Buffalo Life Sciences medical campus near Allen-Hospital Station, the EPIC Center on Main Street and Summer Street apartments across from Summer-Best Station, a new apartment house and two renovated apartment buildings near Utica Station, the refurbished Sears building and Canisius College expansion between Delavan and Humboldt Stations and new housing and a supermarket near LaSalle Station might never have happened if not for the subway stations.
E. Edward Deutschman is past chairman of the Citizens Regional Transit Corp.