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Find a way NFTA, Tonawanda have to get together on plan for a new biking-hiking trail

Town of Tonawanda leaders who want a biking-hiking trail along an old railroad right of way running north from Kenmore Avenue have to deal with a possible plan to use the same land to extend the Metro Rail system.

While Metro Rail expansion is little more than a dream right now, the town and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority should be prepared to accommodate each other for the good of the region.

If NFTA officials were to go forward with a rail extension, they suggest that the biking-hiking path could run on one side of that right of way. That would allow pedestrians and cyclists as well as light rail vehicles to share the space.

The NFTA has long considered that 4.75-mile stretch of former railroad tracks a likely way to extend Metro Rail. Above-ground tracks there would connect with the subway at LaSalle Station and then to downtown Buffalo.

The town hopes to lease the land from the NFTA, then tap $2.1 million in federal funds to build the trail, but there are obstacles to overcome.

Building the trail in the middle of the right of way would be cheaper, but that would not leave room for any light rail extension. Sharing the right of way by moving the trail to one side would require widening bridges and strengthening embankments, which would significantly increase the price tag.

The length of the lease is also an issue. The town would like to lease the land for 25 years. NFTA officials favor a 10-year lease for the trail, just in case rail expansion goes forward. But the federal government, which is providing 80 percent of the funding, might think that 10 years is not enough time to recoup its investment.

NFTA officials have said they would consider a longer term if the trail were to run along the side of the right of way. They have said that to commit to even a 20-year agreement for the middle of that right of way is contrary to the NFTA's core transportation mission. And given rising fuel prices and environmental concerns, the NFTA is rightly concerned that it would be criticized for giving that space up for a bike path.

Metro rail's needs can co-exist with a biking-hiking path. Both NFTA and town officials must examine all possibilities, and devise a way to add to the area's recreational opportunities while preserving the possibility of a future rail extension. It's a combination that could work for all parties.

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