Letter to the Editor: NFTA Light Rail Project Benched For Now

Your Two CentsFebruary 18, 2020

Amherst Times
Letters to the Editor

Dear Letters Editor:

There is bad news from Washington concerning the federal support for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s proposed $1.4 billion Amherst Light Rail Extension project. According to the Federal Transit Administration New Starts Report for the upcoming Federal Fiscal Year 2021 (October 1, 2020 – September,30, 2021) released last week, the proposed NFTA $1.4 billion (or $1.2 billion if you believe their anticipated savings by reducing some tunneling work), the NFTA’s Amherst Light Rail project was not listed as a new project being admitted into the FTA New Starts Program under the first step known as “Project Development.

Not being admitted into the Federal Transit Administration New Starts Program is disappointing news for the NFTA. This represents a significant set back in their long range goal of obtaining federal funding. The NFTA has been in discussion with the FTA for several years in attempting to be admitted into the New Starts program.

This represents a potential delay of up to one more year for advancement of the project. As each year goes by, project costs tend to increase. Any excuse for justification of this delay is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. You can’t win a federal grant from the FTA if you haven’t been admitted into the New Starts Program.

It is like a baseball player on the bench (NFTA) waiting for the coach (FTA) to put him in the line up (admitted to the New Starts Program), advancing to the on deck circle, waiting for his turn at bat (admitted to final design and engineering), stepping up to home plate hoping for a hit (negotiating a Full Funding Grant Agreement) and getting a hit (scoring a Full Funding Grant Agreement) and scoring a run (completing construction of the project and placing it in revenue service.) How do you get a hit and score a run if you aren’t even in the game?

The NFTA continues to offer overly optimistic hopes to project advocates, commuters,taxpayers and elected officials for promising to be successful in obtaining federal funding for this project.

The odds are growing slim for the NFTA to win any Full Funding Grant Agreement from FTA for this project on or before 2025 based upon what should be disappointing news for local supporters of this project.


Larry Penner

(Larry Penner — transportation historian, advocate and writer who worked for the US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office for 31 years. This included review & approval of NFTA capital and operating assistance grants, followed by project oversight for FTA funded NFTA capital projects and programs from 1984 – 2014 to insure compliance with applicable federal rules and regulations, completion on time, within budget accompanied by a minimum number of contract change orders.)

2 Responses to “Letter to the Editor: NFTA Light Rail Project Benched For Now”

  1. Jeff says:

    This may be an opportunity in disguise. A more affordable and effective way to address transportation issues in Amherst is likely to involve expanded bus service, including bus rapid transit (www.itdp.org/library/standards-and-guides/the-bus-rapid-transit-standard/what-is-brt/).

  2. Dave says:

    This is an interesting post from an obvious DOT insider. I have never been a believer in spending billions on the extension. I agree that the short (and long) term solution is rapid bus service in dedicated lanes already easily accommodated on Amherst very generous main roads.