Keep planning for DL&W
Transit Authority needs to make itself attractive for potential federal funding
One of the key components in remaking Buffalo’s Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad terminal project is connectivity, so any delay in getting a new Metro Rail station and “bustling retail complex” is discouraging. The effort has been flagging. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has twice failed to secure federal funding for Metro Rail’s extension described by the News’ Robert J. McCarthy as the “cavernous train shed at the foot of Main Street.” And as he wrote, just as the NFTA considers proposals from potential developers, unanticipated costs have temporarily scrapped plans for a pedestrian connection to adjacent KeyBank Center.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, expressed concern about the postponement and resulting reduced foot traffic. “If they start to remove features, it may demonstrate some evidence of retreat,” he said. That could discourage potential developers.
Perhaps at least as troubling is the lack of transparency on the part of NFTA officials as to exactly who these potential developers might be. Last month, the authority would not even say whether any potential developers existed. The assistant executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government explained that the NFTA was not required to disclose the information. Really?
Higgins, in his caution about removing features, implored the authority to reconsider and “plan for the highest and best build-out that will make it commercially viable.” He added, “The worst thing is to pull back.”
Some measure of hope lies in Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel’s statement that the $43 million project “remains a top priority for the NFTA.” She said the planned skywalk over South Park Avenue will not be eliminated but phased in, based on the availability of funds.
The authority is already seeking bids for upgrading to passenger standards track and catenary in the DL&W yard. Moreover, the authority is preparing to advertise bids for a stair tower from the terminal’s second floor to South Park Avenue at Illinois Street.
But Minkel will not share when it comes to responses to requests for proposals on the DL&W project due last month. She cited “proprietary information” that may be included and that the authority has received information from developers, with evaluation set for summer completion.
Further, she did not address Higgins’ suggestion to reconsider delay of the skywalk, while not ruling it out. She also mentioned alternatives to connect the arena and terminal through a different and less expensive walkway design.
It is easy to agree with developer Rocco R. Termini, who last month cited the loss of the walkway as an obstacle for developers. Minkel contends the delays result from a “complicated and competitive process for funds.”
Still, Higgins is pushing and, as he said, Washington is getting ready for an unprecedented $1.5 trillion infrastructure program and the DL&W proposal would stand a chance to snag some of those funds. The authority, as the congressman notes, should “stay ahead and plan for this eventuality.”