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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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UB community weighs in on proposed NFTA expansion

<p>Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority approved a study examining the feasibility of extending the metro rail to UB’s North Campus. Many students are excited about this, but skeptical it might come with drawbacks.</p>

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority approved a study examining the feasibility of extending the metro rail to UB’s North Campus. Many students are excited about this, but skeptical it might come with drawbacks.

Anjelika Catral has never taken the subway from South Campus to downtown Buffalo. She didn’t even know UB had access to a subway. She wants to see more of Buffalo besides the area surrounding North Campus, but wishes there was an easier way to do so.

It won’t happen during Catral’s time at UB, but there might eventually be a solution to make traveling downtown easier.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority board approved a $4.8 million study to extend Metro Rail service to UB’s North Campus last month. The study is projected to take between two and three years to complete and will analyze the environmental impacts of the proposed six-and-a-half-mile expansion to North Campus. While the university supports an expansion north to connect the three campuses, some in the UB and Buffalo community feel there are better uses for taxpayer dollars.

The planned route would include three stops on North Campus. An above-ground rail car would enter North Campus at Rensch Road and stop at Capen Hall, Lockwood Library and the Ellicott Complex.

Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration, released a statement in support of the proposal. She said the proposal aligns with UB’s “master physical plan,” a part of UB’s 2020 vision to expand environmentally friendly transportation between UB’s three campuses.

“When you consider that the new building for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedicine in downtown Buffalo incorporates a Metro Rail stop within the building’s footprint, the proposal is even more attractive to the university because many of our students, faculty and staff will choose Metro Rail as a convenient and economical way to travel between campuses,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard also said connecting all three campuses would allow students to experience all Buffalo has to offer. As part of the student experience, Hubbard said it’s important to see more than the surrounding areas near North and South campuses.

Cartal, a freshman speech and hearing major, said students who come from big cities where metro lines are an integral part of daily commutes would feel at home on the proposed line.

“The proposal is a good idea because it’s going to be inclusive. Everyone on North can do the same things as people living near South or downtown,” Catral said. “Since we’re in a new place, it’s important to explore our surroundings. There’s a lot going on downtown that I feel like a lot of students don’t have access to.”

Students think the proposal has its pros and cons. Catral said she thinks students will abuse the subway and use it as another way to access parties on South Campus, and now downtown.

Thomas Panzica, a junior mechanical engineering major, said the busing between North and South can be inconsistent. He said a metro station on North Campus would provide students a quick and cheap alternative to go between UB’s campuses without waiting for the bus or paying a ride-sharing service.

But Panzica thinks there could be drawbacks. He also said he is worried students might abuse the extended transportation as a way to party on South and downtown.

Kelly Hayes McAlonie, director of campus planning, said she supports the proposed expansion because it will streamline transportation between UB’s campuses.

McAlonie played a major role in garnering support for the study. She sat on NFTA’s project advisory committee to provide ideas and feedback for the study.

“The committee was comprised of staff and community members from neighboring communities that the expansion would affect,” McAlonie said. “As UB’s representative, I met periodically with NFTA on each stage of development and gave them our response. I reviewed their suggestions against our master plan and ensured that UB’s plan was included in NFTA’s expansion list that they revealed.”

Right now, she’s uncertain if the university will provide a metro pass for students who want to use the subway. She said the proposal would be beneficial for the university, regardless of how students choose to use it.

“We just see that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks,” McAlonie said. “[It is] important that students have access to all campuses and all the wonderful benefits that the city has to offer. The proposed extension is not just to benefit UB. It’s the entire region. There’s going to be lots of people who live in the area that will benefit from these additional stops.”

Some officials are skeptical over the proposed benefits. Congressman Brian Higgins said funding challenges from the Trump administration are making him reconsider supporting the expansion, an estimated $1.2 billion endeavor.

He said improving the existing rail downtown, which is “in dire need of improvement,” is a better use of money.

“I don’t know if there’s $1 billion available to spend to expand the system to Amherst, which [by 2024] would cost double that amount,” Higgins said. “[UB] should prepare for both possibilities. Let’s study these extensions, but at the same time look to study the improvements that are needed to make the existing system downtown as state of the art as possible.”

Talks of expanding the metro to reach North Campus have gotten nowhere for over 40 years. Higgins said the smarter decision would be to concentrate on the proposed extension into the DL&W terminal and upgrading current lines to accommodate more downtown development, particularly near the new Jacobs School.

“UB is making moves into the city. Nobody anticipated 10 years ago that UB’s medical school would be downtown. That’s a $375 million investment,” Higgins said. “There’s also serious conversations to move the law and architecture schools downtown, so why focus on expanding to North when currently UB is clearly focused on the downtown area.”

Bruce Fisher, an economics professor at Buffalo State College,agreed with Higgins’s point of view. He said Buffalo has an unaccountable public authority spending money that it shouldn’t.

“The last time I checked, there are many highways that link to North Campus. It’s absolutely crazy to think that we need a light-rail rapid-transit system connecting it to South,” Fisher said. “It begs the question of where do we think people are coming from, all over the place or one place, all downtown? With UB’s recent development downtown, I think it’s absolutely looney to want to expand into Amherst.”

Fisher said if it was 1960 when the Boulevard Mall was thriving and many people shopped in person, there may be a reason for people to travel to Amherst. But as online shopping continues to thrive, he sees no excuse to expand north.

“Have any of these developers heard of Amazon? It’s 2018; by 2024 that mall will be non-existent,” Fisher said. “Don’t use that as an excuse to build additional rail stops. People already have an easy access to [North Campus], the downtown system desperately needs renovations and that’s where the NFTA should be spending this money.”

Max Kalnitz is a news editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@gmail.com

@Max_Kalnitz.

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