Metro Rail users in downtown Buffalo and drivers near Fountain Plaza and the Theatre District will face some disruption in the coming months, as construction continues on Lower Main Street south of Exchange Street this summer under the effort to return car traffic to the thoroughfare.
The disruptions stem from the current phase of work, which will temporarily prevent the trains from completing their runs to Canalside and coming back on the other side.
New sidewalks are finished at Main and Scott streets, and planters, irrigation and benches are in place.
Contractors will start work July 6 on the remaining trackbed and rail work on the west side of Main, with completion expected in late summer, according to Debra Chernoff, manager of planning for Buffalo Place. The work will then shift to the east side of Main, through Oct. 12.
As part of that work, the existing rail crossover on Main, south of the Interstate 190 bridge, will be removed, while the new rail crossover – part of the DL&W terminal project underway further south – will not yet be completed, Chernoff said.
So the surface section of Metro Rail will be limited to "single tracking" for the time being, she explained.
Buffalo officials are looking for more federal funding to return cars to parts of Main Street, months after an earlier bid for aid failed. The city on May 18 applied for a $24.5 million federal transportation grant, under the BUILD program, to fund the next round of Cars Sharing Main Street. That’s the yearslong effort to reverse the 1980s
Trains coming from the north, from underground, will emerge from the portal and stop at Fountain Plaza. From there, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will run a rail shuttle on the surface section of track from Fountain Plaza to the Seneca or Canalside stations. Passengers can cross the street at the Fountain Plaza station to board the shuttle, Chernoff said.
But the Fountain Plaza area of Main Street will not have either car traffic or parking on either side during this period of work, since the trains and surface shuttle will be running in both directions on both sides, Chernoff cautioned.
The 600 block of Main Street also will not have car traffic from July 6 to Aug. 31, as NFTA repairs some broken track in the portal, which has limited train use. Traffic will resume on one side of street from Sept. 1 until Oct. 12, when the work wraps up.
Car traffic will continue on one side of the street in the 500 block – on the opposite side of the surface shuttle.
Meanwhile, crews just poured a 12-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side of Main, between Exchange and the outbound Metro Rail station, and adjacent planters and benches are being installed.
Douglas Jemal, the owner of Seneca One tower, wants to put his tax dollars to work – in the area around downtown’s tallest building. Jemal’s Douglas Development Corp. is working with the City of Buffalo and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency on a unique and special financing arrangement that could ultimately provide as much as $20 million for
The Main Street work is part of a multiyear effort to bring cars back to Main Street from Edward and Tupper streets to Canalside, after the well-acknowledged failure of a 40-year-old urban renewal initiative to bring light rail and a pedestrian mall to downtown Buffalo. Instead of driving growth and activity, it led to a decline in business, led to a rise in vacancies and hurt the image of downtown.
Officials have been planning for the reversal of that project since a feasibility study in 1997, with the first phase of work completed in 2009 at the 700 block. Since then, the city has spent $53.4 million in state and federal money to reintroduce cars alongside the trains while enhancing the streetscape and maintaining a pedestrian presence. The next section runs from Exchange to Church streets, with the final portion extending north to Mohawk Street.
"It has changed the image of downtown Buffalo," Chernoff said. "It’s renewing the Metro Rail surface section for another 30 years."
But that's likely to require another $100 million of investment – more than the entire project was originally supposed to cost. Officials hope to garner a share of the proposed new federal infrastructure funding that the Biden Administration is negotiating with Congress, but that's not certain yet.
In the meantime, the NFTA still has routine repairs to make on the 40-year-old system, particularly the trackbed and rail replacement.
"The Main Street infrastructure is well past its useful life and requires constant repair," Chernoff said.