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NFTA mismanages the airport and the waterfront

Who exactly is the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority? Who is on the board of directors? How did it acquire all of that waterfront property? Why does it have so much control without any apparent accountability?

I had plenty of time to contemplate these questions as I stood waiting for more than half an hour for my bags at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Sunday. As a frequent traveler, I can tell you that the airport is badly mismanaged compared with most other airports I have flown in and out of.

The horribly slow baggage return is only a symptom of that mismanagement. Another example was the complete failure to inform the traveling public of the status of the airport during the October surprise storm. I personally experienced this ineptness on that fateful Friday-the-13th morning.

I called the airport at 7 a.m., and a recorded message said it was open and to check with your carrier for flight status. When I got to Genesee Street, all the digital signs indicated the airport and its parking lots were open. But as I got closer, I saw the line of cars waiting to get into the closed lots. There were no airport representatives out there giving instructions or directing people where to go. No signage. Nothing.

Not only had there not been any flights in almost 10 hours at that point, but, in that time, the airport had not contacted the radio stations or even bothered to change the digital signs on its own property.

In my opinion, the NFTA is a perfect example of what's wrong with Buffalo. It's a sort of "shadow government" that's very political yet totally unaccountable. If you don't believe me, then I challenge you to name of the chairman of the NFTA board. I myself have no idea, and I don't know anyone outside of government who does.

Yet somehow this secretive organization has a stranglehold on the infrastructure of Western New York. You'll notice that the county executive and the Legislature never order the NFTA to do anything. They are always asking, nicely, and most of the time they are told no.

So it bears asking the question, to whom does the NFTA answer? We have stood by as countless waterfront projects have come and gone. All have failed largely due to the NFTA's unwillingness to part with the land.

I know that lately the NFTA has said it might be willing to sell the property to private developers. But who gave it the power to decide that? The county should demand that the NFTA sell all of its waterfront property and get out of the way of development. It's a transit authority, not a property developer.

It's time to shine the light on the shadow government. If we are going to move ahead in this area, it's time to revamp the NFTA. It's time to privatize those functions it does poorly and have accountability for those it will continue to run. As a taxpayer, I am outraged by the ability of a transit agency to be so untouchable and so pivotal to our economic survival. Reform the NFTA now.

George Borrello lives in Williamsville.

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