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Trump budget threatens Metro Rail extensions to Amherst, DL&W terminal

President Trump’s proposed budget eliminates a key transit funding program and points a “dagger” at the possibility of extending Buffalo’s Metro Rail to Amherst, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

And Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials warn that a separate plan to extend Metro Rail at the other end of the line into the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad terminal at the foot of Main Street also is imperiled by Trump’s proposal to discontinue another funding source pegged for the $42 million project.

Taken together, Schumer says, the president's proposals cast doubt on Trump's campaign promises to champion infrastructure development throughout the nation.

“It would be terrible for Buffalo,” the New York Democrat said in a phone interview with The Buffalo News.

Trump's spending plan contains no provision for the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” program, Schumer said, and that presents a major obstacle to obtaining federal funds for the proposed $1.2 billion Metro Rail extension to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus and beyond.

“New Starts is geared toward projects like the Amherst-to-Buffalo connection,” the senator said, pointing to $600,000 he secured for the project’s initial studies a few years ago.

Cuomo's backing rejuvenates effort to extend Metro Rail

The analysis of the proposal to double the Metro Rail’s existing 6.4 mile system demonstrates why the project should be embraced by the new administration, he said. He pointed to conclusions predicting $1.7 billion in development along the route, an increase in current daily ridership from 20,000 to about 45,000, and a $310 million increase in property values that will raise tax revenues 32 percent for the City of Buffalo and Town of Amherst.

“That’s job, jobs, jobs,” Schumer said, “and the New Starts program is key to getting this done.”

Kimberley A. Minkel, NFTA executive director, described the development as “extremely disappointing.” She said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s backing for the project in his January State of the State address provided the most optimism for an Amherst extension since the project was dropped from original Metro Rail plans almost 40 years ago.

“If they go through with this, it pretty much stops this project dead in its tracks,” Minkel said.

An NFTA Metro Rail car leaves the former DL&W Terminal, the upper level of which has been the subject of many reuse proposals. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

In addition, she said the president’s plan to nix federal TIGER grants will produce a more immediate impact on the DL&W extension, planned for implementation within the next few years. The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, which already funded the program of returning traffic to portions of Main Street, were planned to pay for extending Metro Rail into the former passenger terminal, redeveloping it for commercial use and connecting it to the adjacent KeyBank Center.

The plan is seen as a bright spot in future waterfront development and also was highlighted by Cuomo in his State of the State address along with the promise of $22 million in Buffalo Billion II money from Albany.

If the president's budget is approved without changes, Minkel said, the cost for localities planning such projects would probably prove overwhelming.

“It would put a tremendous burden on the localities,” she said, “where previously these would be funded by the federal government.”

A roadmap of Gov. Cuomo's transportation proposals for Buffalo area

Minkel said transit advocates like those at the NFTA also are disappointed in Trump’s first budget because, as a candidate, he promised a new federal emphasis on infrastructure development.

“It seems the focus is on the automobile,” she said. “Certainly, roads and bridges have to be repaired."

“But are there other ways for people to move around?” she added. “The value of transit cannot be overestimated.”

Schumer, the Senate minority leader, believes the projects still could be saved. He said rural Republicans from the West have previously recognized the need for federal support of transit. He said efforts to save the funding programs occupy the “top of the list.”

“Transit has always had bipartisan support, and even Lindsey Graham has said this budget is dead on arrival,” he said of the influential Republican senator from South Carolina.

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