Planning Under Way to Extend Buffalo Light Rail

WSP is working with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) to design an extension that will nearly double the length of Buffalo’s Metro light rail system.

Since the nearly seven-mile NFTA-Metro light rail line was opened in the mid-1980s, it has served as a 13-station connection between the KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo — home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres — and the University at Buffalo’s (UB) South Campus in the Northeast section of the city.

But NFTA is now preparing a 6.5-mile extension of the light rail line to reach the suburban town of Amherst in the Northeast. WSP is leading the planning team that will lay the groundwork for the project, developing the environmental impact statement (EIS) that will determine where and how the line can best be installed.

“The project is basically extending the existing light rail system from the University at Buffalo’s South Campus — which is located at the northern end of the line — to the University’s North Campus in Amherst,” said Scot Sibert, project manager for WSP. “The University’s interest as a key stakeholder in this transit project is to create a quicker access for their students, faculty, and staff to reach all three campuses, rather than use UB’s Stampede bus service.”

Currently, only two of the University’s three campuses — the downtown Medical Campus and the South Campus — can be reached by light rail. When the new extension opens, students will have rail access to each campus.

The NFTA-Metro light rail line was opened in the mid-1980s, connecting downtown Buffalo in the south with the South Campus of the University at Buffalo in the north.

A Catalyst

By connecting downtown Buffalo to its most populous suburb, the extended light rail line will serve as a catalyst for new development along the corridor.

“The extension will provide more than just transportation for students to get to their classes,” Sibert said. “Students and residents will be able to reach other destinations as well – restaurants, shopping areas, employment, residences — and make other transportation connections. It will be great for anyone travelling through Buffalo.”

While most of the current Buffalo light rail line runs through underground tunnels, the extension will include a mix of underground and above-ground segments.

“It will begin at University Station, which is underground,” Sibert said. “Within the first mile or so, it will pop out as an at-grade line and continue above ground through the remaining section of the corridor.”

Sibert estimates that there will be about 10 stations built along the extension.

NFTA is targeting full operation of the light rail extension by 2030.

Scott Siebert

Scot Sibert

Quality of Life

Over an 18-month period, WSP will oversee the development and completion of the EIS as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which will determine the impact that the extension will have on the environment. Since the line will follow existing roadway corridors, the study will also evaluate the impact the project will have on traffic flow and intersections. WSP will then recommend actions for the project that will maintain the quality of life in the region.

WSP will also determine the capital costs needed for the project, which is necessary to qualify for the Federal Transit Administration's capital improvement grant program.

The firm will partner with Sowinski Sullivan Architects on the conceptual design; and with Mott MacDonald, the firm that worked on the original Buffalo light rail system.

“WSP was chosen for this project in part due to our experience and reputation on light rail projects across the U.S., as well as for our local presence and reputation for quality work with the client on other projects involving our Buffalo office,” Sibert said.

The process will also include extensive public engagement to meet NEPA requirements and inform the public about the alignment, its potential impacts on the community during construction, and what will be done to mitigate those impacts.

Sibert, who is leading the project; Fred Frank, deputy project manager; and Mark Tytka, principal-in-charge, are looking forward to building community support for Buffalo’s light rail extension.

“It’s always rewarding to see a project develop that has been identified to improve accessibility for the public and creates new opportunities to encourage or promote modes of transportation beyond the personal car,” Sibert said.

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Planning has begun for a 6.5-mile extension of the light rail line to reach the suburban town of Amherst in the Northeast.

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