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Escalator repair gets moving; NFTA commissioners vote
to fix stalled equipment

A fiery confrontation over fixing a subway station escalator "de-escalated" Friday when Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority commissioners voted to award an emergency repair contract.

After two authority commissioners engaged in a shouting match Monday over whether an extensive competitive bidding process should guide escalator repair in Metro Rail's University Station, a more placid board voted, 7-2, Friday to award the contract to DCB Elevator for $332,790.

But it will still take four months to rebuild the conveyance, and Commissioner James J. Eagan continued to lead the charge against the emergency rebuild. He said DCB – which maintains all Metro Rail escalators and elevators – should be responsible.

"The fact that this escalator has been down for four months and has inconvenienced our riders is shameful," he said. "It's been down because the contract was not adhered to for full maintenance and service."

Eagan, backed in the vote by Commissioner Mark D. Croce, said a repair effort rather than a complete rebuild would "buy time" to allow the authority to seek a wider variety of bids in the near future.

"It would give us plenty of time to go and get the necessary bids for a rebuild," he said. "It shouldn't cost the authority money; it should be the responsibility of DCB to fix the escalator."

But David J. State, NFTA general counsel, said his interpretation of the escalator maintenance contract fails to hold DCB responsible for such a major repair.

"I don't view it as a bumper-to-bumper warranty contract," he said, adding that past implementation of the contract over the years would weaken any court argument for DCB responsibility.

Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel said the University Station escalator represents a wider problem with subway escalators and elevators now well past their normal 20-year life span. The companion escalator in the University Station and both escalators in the Delavan-Canisius Station – the longest in the system – are among those in the worst shape. The rebuild project should ensure another 10 years for the equipment.

She said the authority's engineering staff recommended the more extensive rebuild project over a repair effort pegged at about $165,000, or a new escalator for about $1 million, because federal money was identified to help defray the costs. She also said the emergency nature of the bid would allow only one bidder under federal guidelines but that the authority invited three companies to submit proposals, with two responding.

"We thought this made the most economical sense," Minkel said.

In the meantime, she said, the authority can expect even more problems as the escalator and elevator system approaches its third decade.

"We have an aging system, and we need to address that," Minkel said.

Monday, Eagan and Commissioner Adam W. Perry engaged in a heated shouting match over how to handle the escalator problem, prompting Chairman Howard A. Zemsky to open Friday's meeting with a request for civility.

"It's incumbent on us to respect each other and treat each other respectfully," he said, "and hold ourselves to a higher standard of conduct."

In other action, commissioners approved a new parking fee schedule for Buffalo Niagara International Airport, changing from a "sales tax included" structure to a "sales tax excluded" one. As a result, beginning Jan. 1, parking will cost $4.35 per hour instead of $4 for some lots to reflect sales tax.

Parking rates have not been raised since 2010, Minkel said, and the authority will realize about $69,000 in additional annual revenue.