It seemed like a Hail Mary pass when Western New York legislators advocated for $100 million in state aid over five years to upgrade Buffalo’s aging Metro Rail system.
The pass was completed for a touchdown as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature reached a deal over the weekend to secure the funding, a major win for our representatives in Albany and for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, used his new clout as the Senate’s transportation committee chairman to help bring about the deal.
“We made it a priority, especially with the downstate investments of historic proportions, that we are making historic investments in Buffalo and Western New York as well,” Kennedy said.
Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, also a Buffalo Democrat, proposed the funding plan for the NFTA two years ago.
“It’s clear the system is in dire need of repair, and this will put them on a step towards that goal,” Ryan said of the 35-year-old Metro Rail.
Democratic Assembly colleagues Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, Robin L. Schimminger and Monica P. Wallace joined with Ryan’s efforts to secure the funding.
In addition to improving the aging light rail system’s infrastructure, the funding deal has important implications for the future. Aside from the $100 million for capital improvements, the deal also includes $6
million for an engineering study to expand the rail line to the University at Buffalo’s North Campus. The extension project would cost an estimated $1.2 billion.
As we’ve said in this space before, extending the 6.4-mile system to Amherst is a way for Buffalo Niagara to keep its economic momentum going. Tying the city and its largest suburb together by rail would mean
more commuting options for workers who are needed to fill jobs and expand our economy.
By repairing its deteriorating tracks, broken escalators and worn overhead wires, the NFTA will improve its chances of getting federal funds for the expansion. Systems in good condition score higher in the
competitive quest for funding. All in all, the NFTA funding is a win-win for Western New York.
Two other pieces of Albany business from this week are worth applauding:
• The Senate gave final passage to the “Tobacco 21” act, banning the sale of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to anyone under 21. The law puts protecting the health of young people front and center.
• The state budget includes a new sales tax arrangement for items sold over the internet. It’s no fun to have to pay more, but the change should help level the playing field for local merchants trying to compete with the online sales that flood the internet.