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Another Voice: Rail service can be an alternative to the Skyway

By Jason Kulaszewski

It was recently announced that Rep. Brian Higgins and State Sen. Timothy Kennedy have secured funding to examine transportation alternatives for Buffalo’s Skyway. Studies show the Skyway may have outlived its useful life, and in 2014 it was placed on the Congress for New Urbanism’s list of “Freeways Without Futures.”

We’re at a moment in our city’s history where we’re reimagining our waterfront, redefining our energy systems and seeing formerly vacant industrial buildings being repurposed for what is resulting in some of the largest investments that our city has seen in generations. As Buffalo is being reimagined, we shouldn’t forget to look at our transportation systems to provide better options for visitors and locals to move throughout the region.

Recent investments on Ohio Street and Fuhrmann Boulevard are a great step in creating better connectivity between downtown Buffalo, the Outer Harbor and southern suburbs. As we explore alternatives to the Skyway and routes south we should seriously consider expanding our Metro Rail service.

Leaders in southern suburbs, including Hamburg and East Aurora, have endorsed the idea of expanded Metro Rail service to their communities, and the City of Lackawanna is currently working with local leaders and neighbors to develop plans to revive portions of Ridge Road and their First Ward neighborhood. Expanding our Metro Rail south to these communities would create transit-oriented development opportunities that could not only help Lackawanna achieve a revived Ridge Road, but could also create connectivity between other community assets like Erie Community College’s South and City campuses.

This type of modern infrastructure investment isn’t just theoretical; I see it every time I visit my in-laws in Denver. They have an expanding light rail system that connects all major parts of their growing metropolis. While visiting I think to myself, “Why can’t this happen in Buffalo?”

We have some of the most comprehensive rail infrastructure in the United States. Like Denver, we could utilize these existing rail rights-of-way to breathe new life to the forgotten lifelines of our region as new regional transit lines. These lines have historically been a source of our community’s wealth, and could now be reimagined for our region’s future success by using them to move our most valuable asset, us!

While we are currently in a period of reimagining our city, it’s important to consider our region’s forgotten transportation network and think about reviving the rails from a figment of our industrial past into a new track toward a brighter transportation future for Western New York.

Jason Kulaszewski, of Buffalo, is an executive board member of Citizens for Regional Transit, an advocacy group for expanding Metro Rail services.

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