Growing acceptance and even encouragement by Amherst residents, town leaders and businesses to the prospect of extending Metro Rail is the proper response to a changed landscape.
As sentiment for an expansion of some sort has come around, Sen. Charles E. Schumer is trying to put the effort on the fast track. He is urging the U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Transit Administration to modify a grant he previously secured for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
Schumer’s request would allow the agency to combine its transportation and environmental studies of expansion into one effort. As he said, the NFTA can “walk and chew gum at the same time” as it examines the possibility of extending Metro Rail into the University at Buffalo’s North Campus and beyond to the CrossPoint Business Park.
In a recent News article, Amherst leaders and residents voiced the sort of welcoming approach to a Metro Rail extension that was missing decades ago when the line was built from the Buffalo River up only to the University at Buffalo’s South Campus.
Back then, concern over a rail line juxtaposed to attractive neighborhoods helped squelch the idea of building it for the originally proposed 12.5 miles.
Not to mention some racial tensions around the idea of providing minority young people easy access to suburban neighborhoods.
Time has gone by and demographics and attitudes have changed, and now extending Metro Rail north is looking like a good idea.
Mindset adjustments are also borne out of high gas prices and an influx of Buffalo residents heading to jobs in Amherst, or Northtowners heading to jobs downtown. Riding a bus or driving to the UB South Campus rail stop in order to take the train into the city is a clumsy way to commute.
Running that daily gantlet is only going to get worse as employment at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus ramps up to its expected 17,500 workers in five years. And employment in Amherst, the largest suburb, continues to grow at a nice clip and UB’s 2020 plan calls for more growth at its Amherst campus.
This convergence explains why Amherst leaders have given their full support for the NFTA’s $1.6 million study, which will examine rail, bus or even streetcar expansion to UB’s North Campus or farther.
Who would have thought that, three decades after the opening of Metro Rail, new attitudes and changing economics could be combining to improve public transportation between the suburbs and downtown?