The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will receive $9 million dedicated to improvements to its Metro Rail system, as part of the newly approved state budget.
Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan has called for funding to address the capital needs of Metro Rail's aging infrastructure. The NFTA is the only upstate transportation system that runs trains in addition to buses and an airport.
"We have these capital needs more akin to the MTA than the Rochester or Syracuse or Albany transit authorities," he said, referring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City, which also runs a subway system.
Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, credited other local delegation members with helping bring home the Metro Rail funds. The $9 million is in addition to other, traditional sources of funding the NFTA will also receive in the state budget to maintain normal operations.
Ryan has called for a five-year, $100 million capital plan to address Metro Rail's needs, such as a broken escalator at the Delavan Street Station.
"With capital, these things set you up for 20 more years, 30 more years of service," he said.
Ryan said he is hopeful the $9 million represents only the start of state funding dedicated to Metro Rail improvements.
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, credited Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie with being responsive to issues raised by the upstate lawmakers. While Metro Rail is not nearly as large as the MTA,"it is valuable and important to our constituency," she said.
The upstate delegation had written to Heastie, pointing out that the NFTA had continued to defer maintenance year after year until the system had finally "reached the breaking point." They said that, as a result of Metro Rail's unaddressed maintenance needs, both ridership and on-time performance had declined.
Monica P. Wallace, a Lancaster Democrat who also had signed the letter, said keeping Metro Rail in good working order resonates in the suburbs, as well as in the city because suburban residents use the system to get to work and travel downtown.
"Obviously it's important for the health of any city and any region to have a strong transportation infrastructure," she said.
Metro Rail opened in 1985 along Main Street with both an underground and an above-ground section, which is subject to the deteriorating effects of salt. NFTA officials have pointed out that the system eats up 90 percent of the agency's capital dollars to replace overhead catenary wires that supply electrical power, repair deteriorated track beds and fix worn rail.
The system's maintenance needs run between $35 million and $45 million a year, officials said.
Other upstate transit operations face only bus costs, a fact the legislators noted in their letter to Heastie.