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Editorial: Not the right place for our train station

The state Department of Transportation is about to locate Buffalo’s new train station in the wrong spot, ultimately saddling taxpayers with a $25 million roof that doesn’t leak.

We deserve better. Even if it costs $25 million more (hello, feds?) and takes longer to build. Future generations will thank us for not rushing in.

The Amtrak station on Exchange Street in downtown Buffalo has long been a topic of discussion. The conversation heated up when the roof leaked, causing the ceiling to collapse in several places back in September 2016.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo charged Mayor Byron W. Brown with putting together a train station committee. The committee decided to keep the station downtown. It was the right decision. But did it have to be in the same spot as the current one?

Transportation officials seem to think so. They recently showed off a design nearly three times the size of the current station, three stories that will be at ground level after the land is built up by 6 to 9 feet in places and moved closer to the street.

Problem is, the view is more or less the same: dismal. Disgorging passengers will hear thundering traffic and see the rust-stained girders of the Thruway. Get off the train in Buffalo and see the back end of the Exchange Street parking ramp and the curving arc of the New York State Thruway blotting out views and sunlight.

Instead, turn the vision around. Locate the new station across the tracks along Washington Street where the public can walk into the light with views of Canalside, the Metro Rail, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority buses (if that agency makes agrees to something that is truly multimodal), a brand new hotel and an arena to attend a sporting event or concert.

All of these points are important to locals and of overwhelming importance to strangers who navigate by sight. Guiding them two more blocks underneath the Thruway to catch a train is not good enough.

Somehow that point got lost. Transportation officials recently unveiled the design for the new $20 million station at a public information meeting in the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum. The station is expected to be completed in 2020. Work would get started – shovels in the ground – this year.

It should wait.

Local preservationist Tim Tielman, who offered an alternative plan last year rejected by the Buffalo mayor’s committee, wanted to know why the presentation did not offer a chance to write comments. He makes a persuasive argument about why the station should be on Washington Street.

The best being that once the station is built, that’s it. Consider the current 1952-opened facility tucked under elevated highway ramps. Train stations are built to last for good reason. It is why the DOT should listen to Tielman who argues the “world of difference between perpetuating an ad hoc locational mistake … and a 21st century multimodal facility that this city can be proud of.”

He is right.

New York State, the feds and Amtrak and others are spending $1.6 billion to enhance the traveler experience at New York City’s Penn Station by moving the public train hall across the street. The state understands the importance of a good environment for the traveling public in New York City. Buffalo should not settle for less.

As Tielman said, for $25 million Buffalo is basically getting a roof that doesn’t leak.

We deserve better.

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