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Amherst, Tonawanda to jointly study future of Niagara Falls Boulevard

Niagara Falls Boulevard is a heavily traveled thoroughfare with extensive commercial and residential development that serves as the boundary line between the towns of Amherst and Tonawanda.

Officials on both sides of the road are wrestling with issues ranging from the future of the Boulevard Mall to pedestrian safety to drainage.

That's why Amherst and Tonawanda are planning to conduct a joint study of Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The review is the idea of new Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa, who wants to assess what's happening along the road today and to find ways to better shape its future. The review would look at the streetscape, zoning and land-use conditions and other issues, Kulpa said.

"The Town of Amherst is gearing up to do a corridor study on the boulevard," Kulpa said. "We're going to be asking the Town of Tonawanda to formally participate as a partner in that."

Kulpa, who is an urban planner, said he'd like the study to begin next month and wrap up by spring 2019.

The 6-mile length of Niagara Falls Boulevard between Kenmore Avenue and the Niagara County line at Tonawanda Creek is one of the region's busiest thoroughfares. The 3.3-mile section between the Youngmann Memorial Highway and Tonawanda Creek carried on average nearly 43,000 motorists each day as of last fall.

It includes the Boulevard Mall, which faces the same uncertain future as many other enclosed shopping malls, as well as the Northtown Plaza, where a new owner plans to invest millions of dollars.

"That's a major thoroughfare that separates our towns. We're both responsible for half the road there," Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger said. "It just makes sense for the two towns to collaborate."

Amherst's side has larger commercial projects, such as Benderson Development Co.'s The Boulevard, while Tonawanda's side has smaller-scale retail developments because neighborhoods of homes back right up to the commercial space on the street, Emminger said.

Emminger also said increased development on the Amherst side of the boulevard has led to drainage problems on the Tonawanda side.

The corridor saw five fatal vehicle-pedestrian accidents between 2013 and 2017. Amherst and Tonawanda requested help from the state Department of Transportation, which led to plans to install nearly $1 million in new lighting this year.

David J. Skinner, president of USitek, an information technology company on the Tonawanda side of the boulevard, said he supports the new study and he would like to see more sidewalks and bicycle lanes on the boulevard. But he said he's not concerned about the number of vehicles on the road.

"If you have a business here you want that traffic," Skinner said.

The Niagara Frontier Transporation Authority is weighing an expansion of the Metro rail out to the University at Buffalo North Campus on a path that would follow the boulevard and Maple Road.

"Obviously the big thing hanging out there would be the NFTA, partnering up with them on the light rail, and figuring out what makes sense for that area," said Anthony Baynes Jr., president of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce.

Kulpa said he would expect the towns could begin the study using staff in their respective planning departments. He said he wants input from homeowners, commercial property owners and other stakeholders.

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