1.6 Infrastructure

Buffalo’s physical infrastructure presents an important challenge as well as a great resource as the city plans for its future. It is a resource in that it represents an extraordinary investment in economically useful capital. It is a challenge because it is aging and oversized for Buffalo’s shrunken population, and while the financial resources needed to manage and maintain it are greater than before, revenue from its users has declined. The needs are great because the City has underinvested for decades in systems they own and manage, deferring maintenance, replacement and necessary upgrades. 

The infrastructure of the city includes Cityowned roads, sanitary and storm sewers, water supply, and City-owned buildings, which the City must operate and maintain, plus other roads and highways, public transit, railroads, marine facilities, electric and gas utilities, and telecommunications and fiber optic networks, which are separately managed. Each of these was evaluated in support of this analysis except for telecommunications and fiber optics, which it is assumed will be adequate as the city develops. 

1.6.1 Transportation

Buffalo is the hub of a dense, complex and inter-modal transportation system that connects Buffalo to the region, the nation and the world. It encompasses the local street network, local and regional bus and rail transit, regional, national, and cross-border highway connections, mainline rail freight and passenger facilities, intercity bus service, marine connections to the state, the continent, and overseas, and scheduled passenger airline and air freight service through The Buffalo Niagara International Airport just beyond the city line in Cheektowaga. 

The regional transportation system is owned, managed, and operated by a great number and variety of public and private entities. Because their facilities and services are interconnected and Buffalo sits at the hub of the system, the City must collaborate with them all. It also works closely with the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, the cooperative association of area governments that conducts regional transportation planning.   

Figure 39 Existing system of highways and rail

Figure 39 Existing system of highways and rail (Popup full image) 

1.6.2 Road Network

The City owns most of the streets within its corporate boundaries, about 675 miles of the regional total of 6,155 roadway miles. Of these 675 miles, 210 are eligible for federal aid, leaving the City to maintain almost 465 miles on its own account. It has struggled to do so. While maintenance of local streets in the federal aid system has improved in recent years, lack of municipal capital dollars for the rest of the system has resulted in some deterioration. For example, average scores denoting the condition of city streets declined from 6.31 in 1999 to 5.83 in 2001.

Meanwhile, automobile and truck traffic, already the dominant mode of movement for people and goods in the region, is growing sharply. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased from 16 million in 1984 to 19 million in 1999. Although population has declined slightly, vehicle ownership has risen. Congestion on urban streets and highways is also increasing, including some trouble spots in Buffalo.

1.6.3 Peace Bridge

The Peace Bridge is a key link in both the regional and North American transportation systems. It carries automobile and truck traffic across the Niagara River between Buffalo and Fort Erie, the U.S. and Canada. Since 1989, when the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, truck traffic across the Peace Bridge has increased significantly. Automobile traffic, however, has declined from its previous level. Total traffic is unchanged since 1989 – about 21,000 vehicles per day.

Nevertheless, delays at the bridge have increased sharply in recent years, due in some combination to increased volume, stricter inspection routines prompted by security concerns, and the limits of inspection staff and facilities. Plans by the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority to double capacity in the corridor have been set back by local opposition in Buffalo over issues of bridge design, violations of environmental review procedures, air quality, and other neighborhood impacts of the bridge and plaza.

While City policy is to promote increased efficiency of this international corridor for the economic benefit of Buffalo, the region and both nations, it also demands a bridge plaza design that will help reclaim parkland, minimize negative impacts on the immediate neighborhood, and help create a memorable international gateway. 

1.6.4 Public Transit

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority provides public transit service in the region through its subsidiary NFTA Metro. They operate a fleet of 332 buses serving Buffalo and other communities in the region. Metro also operates the 6.4 mile long Metro Rail, which connects downtown Buffalo to the University at Buffalo’s South Campus. Overall, the system carries 94,000 passengers daily; buses in Buffalo carry 55,000 of these; Metro Rail serves 20,000 passengers a day.

Annual ridership declined from 29 million in 1995 to 26.9 million in 1999, but increased in 2000 by three percent and again in subsequent years. Metro’s route network has been significantly reorganized in recent years with 55 routes connected through a system of hubs that makes it easy to reach any part of the city and much easier to reach destinations throughout the suburbs. Fare box revenue provides about a third of the cost to operate the system with the remainder subsidized by government. Continued improvement in the system is crucial to the application of smart growth principles. 

1.6.5 Air

NFTA also operates the Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BNIA) in Cheektowaga, which serves the operations of nine major and five regional passenger airlines, as well as general aviation and air cargo operations. Intensive efforts to attract new passenger carriers have helped increase competition and lower fares from BNIA. A new terminal and improved navigation systems have also boosted activity there. About four million passengers annually are now served. 

1.6.6 Rail

Buffalo remains an important hub for rail transportation with mainline connections and expansive switching yards. Amtrak provides daily service to New York, Boston, Toronto and Chicago through three passenger stations in the region, including Buffalo’s Downtown Exchange Street station. Passenger volume has been rising at about five percent per year. Freight service is provided by four major companies: CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific, and Canadian National. Rail traffic crosses the Niagara River to and from Canada via the International Bridge. Freight rail traffic has also been increasing. 

1.6.7 Water

Waterborne shipping continues to be an important element in the regional transportation system. The Port of Buffalo provides links to other ports on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and beyond. The Buffalo Port Terminals (Gateway Metroport) in Lackawanna are privately owned and operated by Buffalo Crushed Stone and handle general bulk cargo. Several grain and utility companies have their own terminals on the Buffalo River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that from 1987 to 1996, the annual volume of marine cargo increased 37 percent to 1.6 million tons.

The Erie Canal connects Buffalo to New York via Albany and the Hudson River. Once Buffalo’s primary transportation link to the world and long a major cargo route, the canal now carries mostly recreational craft and is becoming an important catalyst for tourism development.  

1.6.8 Water and Sewer

Although generally adequate, the city’s water and sewer systems are quite old. The majority of all water lines were installed prior to 1930, and 93 percent of all sanitary sewers were installed before 1941. When the City-owned streets are reconstructed, underground services, including water and sewer, are replaced, but the backlog of needed improvements continues to be massive.  

1.6.9 Water System

Water comes from Lake Erie into an intake out in the lake and flows through a 12 by 12-foot conduit to the Colonel Ward Water Treatment Plant and out to the city through 800 miles of pipe controlled by 25,000 valves. The system supplies an average of 99 million gallons per day to 82,000 service connections and 7,600 fire hydrants. A peak supply of 127.8 MGD was reached in 2001. This capacity is adequate to satisfy foreseeable future demands. Water quality is good and complies with all regulations.

Nevertheless, continued water line maintenance is needed. In 2001, a scant 1.3 miles of water main were renovated or replaced. Water pressure is good throughout the city, except for parts of the northeast section of Buffalo, where pressure is fair to poor. Overall, however, the Colonel Ward Water Treatment Plant has excess capacity.

The system is managed by a private utility firm, American Water Services, Inc., under contract to the Division of Water, Department of Public Works, and the delegated authority of the Buffalo Water Board. Costs to consumers average $230 a year, the lowest in the region. A program is ongoing to convert flat-rate customers to metered accounts and to replace outdated meters with new ones that will allow automated readings. The program is designed to cut costs, encourage water conservation, and ensure that the system can operate on a full cost recovery basis. 

1.6.10 Sewer System

The Buffalo Sewer Authority operates and maintains the city’s public sewage collection and waste water treatment system. The Authority was created by an act of the State Legislature in 1935 to fulfill this mission. The system includes 845 miles of sewer mains and connectors, nine outlying pumping stations, a 17 million gallon storm water retention basin, and the Bird Island Sewage Treatment plant. The system is more than adequate to meet anticipated needs but requirements for maintenance and replacement of lines is very substantial. 

The Bird Island plant has a capacity of 180 million gallons a day (MGD), sufficient to serve a population of 650,000 people. At present, it treats and disposes an average sewer flow of 145 MGD. This volume includes approximately 35 MGD sanitary sewage from suburban communities outside the City of Buffalo. The system provides limited capacity in the northern section of the city but has excess sewer capacity in the industrial area in the southwest section of the city.

Most of the system consists of lines that collect storm water and sanitary sewage together. The consequence of a combined sewer system is that total flow may exceed waste water treatment capacity during heavy precipitation. When this occurs, combined storm water and sewage is discharged into local waterways through combined sewer overflows. An average of 68 combined sewer overflow (CSO) events occur in Buffalo annually. Eliminating these polluting events will require separation of storm sewers from sanitary sewers. 

The Authority’s capital improvement program is intended to address these needs. Replacement and reconstruction of the collection system is ongoing. Sanitary and combined sewer lines are examined via remote television cameras to determine needs for repair, relining or replacement. New storm sewers are being added to the system on a phased basis to address the CSO problem. 

The Authority continues to upgrade the Bird Island Treatment Plant. The Authority is working to construct a new grit collection system and replace the centrifuge at the plant. These two improvements will help reduce the amount of solids to be incinerated, thus reducing fuel costs. These projects are being funded through low interest loans from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation.

Further improvements need to be considered. New pollutants such as hormones, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals may threaten our water quality as they become more common in wastewater. However, the technical means for treating these pollutants have not yet been identified.  

1.6.11 Municipal Buildings

The City owns about 400 buildings, including community centers, police precincts, fire stations, and parks and maintenance buildings, as well as City Hall itself. This inventory is larger than is required to support the City’s current and future needs. Money is being spent to keep buildings open that are not needed when the same money could be better spent for other purposes, including neighborhood redevelopment. 

Some of the excess properties could be sold or redeveloped for more productive uses, filling City coffers and revitalizing neighborhoods in the process. Yet, officials face stiff resistance from neighborhood organizations and other groups when facilities are proposed for closure and disposal. A clear rationale and strong evidence is required to meet these objections. 

As part of implementation of the Comprehensive Plan, the Office of Strategic Planning and Department of Public Works should undertake a complete review of City properties to determine present and future needs. Properties found to be surplus should be sold or exchanged for properties for which the City has a purpose.   

1.6.12 Energy

Buffalo’s energy utilities – electricity and natural gas – are provided by regulated private corporations, which generally provide adequate service. There are, however, serious concerns about the availability and cost of electricity, in particular. Because hydroelectric power is generated in Niagara Falls, in a sense, at our regional “doorstep,” many believe that Buffalo should have electricity available at more competitive rates. Instead, electric power is generally cheaper elsewhere. 

National Grid (formerly Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation), is sensitive to these views. The company reports they have frozen or reduced domestic energy rates for a period while they work to create a competitive long term pricing structure, even in the face of a fluctuating market. National Grid is also negotiating more advantageous bulk rates for its largest industrial customers. National Fuel, the gas supplier for the local market, is pursuing a similar program. The impact on energy costs of these policies, however, is not yet clear. 

The current re-licensing of New York Power Authority (NYPA) facilities, one of the sources from which National Grid gets its electricity, has been an opportunity for businesses and communities in the Buffalo-Niagara region to have input on the NYPA public project finding portion of the relicensing agreement. NYPA originally offered the Buffalo/Erie County area $100 million spread over fifty years for waterfront enhancement projects. The current negotiated offer is worth a minimum of $280 million over the same period.

The proposed NYPA funded projects included a lake-to-Niagara River Greenway Commission Master Plan, dedicated funding for projects undertaken by the Erie Canal Development Corporation, and relocation of the Ice boom storage site.

There is intense interest in energy in the city and region for both economic and environmental reasons. Energy conservation and development of alternative sources of energy can deliver benefits in both categories. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) recently opened an office in downtown Buffalo, and has designated Main Street as a Rebuild New York Community Energy Target Zone. Their partners include the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York Power Authority, and the University at Buffalo Green Office and School of Architecture and Planning. 

Erie County has taken the lead locally in promoting energy efficiency and incorporating green design and construction practices into its facilities. The State of New York is applying a similar policy. The regional trades union council has proposed a district heating system for downtown Buffalo, and others have proposed an urban wind farm. The Queen City Hub Action Plan calls for two “Green Building” demonstration projects Downtown, one for a major new building and one for redevelopment of a major existing building. 

1.6.13 Telecommunications

The city is well served by telecommunications infrastructure and holds a competitive edge in certain areas such as fiber optics. The Buffalo region has more than 80,000 miles of fiber optic line laid and managed by private companies, making it the fifth best-equipped region in the world. Fiber optic technology enables individuals to network with each other at high speeds – regionally, nationally, and globally – providing a useful tool for those whose business activities require such connections.