Keep plan­ning for DL&W

Tran­sit Au­thor­ity needs to make it­self at­trac­tive for po­ten­tial fed­eral fund­ing

The Buffalo News - - OPINION -

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.”

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