The hopes of Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus officials to tie a new parking garage and bus loop in the Old First Ward into a proposed Metro Rail extension that would ferry commuters to the burgeoning medical facility along Main Street appear to be off track, at least for now.
That’s how Kimberley A. Minkel, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, describes the status of several ideas proposed for serving the economic development at the foot of Main Street.
The NFTA’s top priority for the area now lies in seeking state money to partially fund a study of the best location for a far southern Metro Rail station, she said.
While that could mean using the current Erie Canal Harbor or Special Events stations, she said the study also will consider serving the First Niagara Center and the harbor area through a new station at the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Terminal, which the NFTA owns.
But she also said the authority will not pursue the Medical Campus’ idea for an approximately 2,000-foot extension of the line from the DL&W into the Old First Ward, along with the parking garage and bus loop to serve commuters exiting the Niagara Thruway.
Planners had hoped those commuters would use Metro Rail to reach the Medical Campus through such a facility at the line’s southern terminus. “That might be identified as a possibility in the future, but that’s not the purpose of this,” she said. “Now we’re looking at what can be done with the DL&W and our system.”
As a result, the NFTA has applied to the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council for $40,000 to partially fund a $200,000 study, with the rest to be covered by the authority. The application is accompanied by a letter of support from Mayor Byron W. Brown.
The DL&W study was included on a recent list of council priorities, according to Empire State Development spokeswoman Laura Magee.
A decision on the NFTA application is expected in December. The council’s co-chairman is Howard A. Zemsky, who is also NFTA chairman.
Minkel, meanwhile, said construction associated with Canalside, the new HarborCentre, One Canalside and visitors flocking to Erie Canal Harbor has spurred the authority to study how best to integrate two of its most visible assets – Metro Rail and the DL&W. “With all of the development of lower Main Street, it’s important that we look at how to provide service down there,” she said. “Can we do a better job?”
Minkel called the former railroad terminal, which houses Metro Rail’s yard and shops on its lower level, an “incredible building.”
The most daunting and most expensive challenge, she said, is how to elevate the transit line from its current ground level onto the terminal’s upper floor, which could then serve the First Niagara Center. Buffalo Sabres officials also have expressed support for studying how best to integrate the terminal and rail system.