PERSPECTIVE: Getting our arms around a new train station for Buffalo

In an era where a giant 'rubber duck' jams traffic at Canalside

Tim Wenger
March 29, 2017 - 12:45 am

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When you pull together the plans for a family vacation, how often do you consider the option of a train for your roundtrip transportation?   Anyone?  Anyone?

Exactly.

Trains as a mode of transportation are certainly still viable, but the concept of investing tens, or even hundreds, of millions of dollars in a new train station in Buffalo seems like investing in pay phone booths along city streets. 

Sure, we may need a new and more modern facility for passengers to meet and disembark from passenger train routes, but do we need to upset the enormous success that is Canalside or embed a station in the cavernous and, yes, amazingly beautiful Central Terminal?  It’s definitely cause for pause.

I was there at the University of Buffalo North Campus when Governor Andrew Cuomo opened up this Pandora’s Box and issued a challenge to Mayor Byron Brown and regional leaders to come up with a plan for a new terminal and the state would follow by handing over $25 million.  Ever since, it’s been a scurry for where the station would be located and how much it will cost.

Following last week’s public meeting on the matter, we now know the estimates range from $34 to $86 million for a downtown location and $68 to $149 million for the Central Terminal.  If it were your money, I’m guessing you’d go with the downtown location and work to keep the costs on the lower side and as close to the $25 million that the state will be handing over.  But that’s not how government works.

Mayor Brown has been smartly unbiased in his approach to the station location, deferring to planners, experts and the community on the matter.  Other politicians haven’t been so unbiased.  Rep. Brian Higgins is adamantly in favor of the Central Terminal location and Assemblyman Sean Ryan is in agreement with Higgins, with more of his focus being on what he considers to be the detrimental impact on Canalside a train station would cause. READ MORE HERE 

To Congressman Higgins’ credit, he says he will fight for matching Federal money for the station to be located at the Central Terminal site, but it still only would add up to about a third of the higher end of the projected price-tag.

Higgins stated Monday: “The State Department of Transportation money is actually federal money. What I would envision is that the state of New York would use that $25 million currently in their budget available next year and apply for matching funds from the government. I sit on two key committees and I will be a champion for securing that funding. Now you take a $50 million investment and that will unleash the private sector investments".

There are as many moving parts to the train terminal location issue as there are in a modern locomotive.  But there is also a looming late-April deadline for a decision on a site in order to be eligible for the $35 million in state monies.

It seems obvious to me the Canalside location would go against the grain of what has been the success of that district.  Granular and organic development projects one at a time have been the

building blocks of the success at Canalside.

As for the Central Terminal?  I recently visited the terminal campus and it is massive.  It’s hard to imagine how a train terminal that currently serves just hundreds of daily passengers could successfully be the impetus to revitalize the massive acreage and expansive vacant base station, tower and adjacent office building space.  It is truly an almost unimaginable task.

But just ten years ago, was it imaginable that there would be a monumental traffic jam on a Saturday night leading to Canalside because a giant rubber duck was floating in the harbor?  Was it imaginable that thousands of people would be living in renovated lofts and apartment spaces downtown?  Was it imaginable that new development would be popping up along the Buffalo River at a pace that’s hard to keep track of?

During a recent visit to the Buffalo Planning Board, Chairman James Morrell told me that five years ago they would beg people to bring projects before the board for approval process.  Now, there is a line.

So the easy answer is the cheaper project.  But is that the right answer?  And if the Central Terminal is the chosen location, will the marriage of public and private funding all ‘add up’?

With Governor Cuomo’s deadline clock ticking, we’ll await that answer as we await the next train at the station location to be determined.

 

 

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