ADVERTISEMENT

The Metro Rail system here has always had the potential for growth, and now there is an opportunity for that to happen. Legislators and stakeholders should make sure the funding is there to make it happen.

Right now, the catalyst for discussion is the growth on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, expected to employ about 17,500 people in five years.

That’s the good news. The bad news is there aren’t anywhere near enough parking spaces for the cars of all those new employees.

And that’s where the much-debated Metro Rail system comes into play.

Metro Rail has been maligned almost since it opened in 1986 for its abbreviated 6.2-mile run, stretching from the harbor to the University at Buffalo’s South Campus. It has been useful for those able to take advantage of the system, especially the free ride along the 1.4-mile surface section.

But the system could be put to greater use, and growth on the Medical Campus along with a sprouting inner harbor should provide the kick. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is facing financial difficulties, and a new stream of paying customers would help the bottom line.

As reported, serious study is under way about extending Metro Rail to a parking facility that would be built just beyond the system’s southern terminus at the NFTA’s Yard and Shops complex in the former DL&W Terminal. Medical Campus workers would park in the garage and take Metro Rail the rest of the way to work.

The project would require elevating the Metro Rail tracks at the current special events station near First Niagara Center to carry trains into a new station on the upper floor of the massive DL&W train shed.

The trains would then exit the terminal and travel over Michigan Avenue about 2,000 feet to the new parking garage, which would have a ground floor bus loop and serve as a commuter hub.

Financially, the project will be a big lift, costing between $100 million and $200 million. But the fact that even preliminary conversations on the project have started is a plus. Indeed, it’s nice to have Buffalo’s subway system facing a growth problem.

The NFTA is receptive to the idea, although it hasn’t taken any action yet. Give the NFTA credit for its plans to integrate the Allen/Medical Campus Metro Rail station into the ground floor of the new, $350 million University at Buffalo Medical School. The latest proposal would take the integration an important step further.

The Buffalo Sabres are also interested if it means improving service for fans heading to the arena.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, is voicing the kind of encouragement that might get this idea off the ground with federal funding that he has shown the ability to secure.

He’s right that the DL&W proposal ties in well with his new efforts to market the terminal as a public space and recreational boating mecca.

It’s time for Metro Rail to catch up with the exciting changes happening on the Medical Campus and at the waterfront.