Finally, CTA is moving forward on extending the Red Line – but cash to complete the extension is tied up in federal funding — and the whims of the Congressional funding process.
Chicago residents who live south of 95th Street have anticipated Chicago Transit Authority rail service since the 1960’s. Finally, CTA is moving forward on extending the Red Line – but cash to complete the extension is tied up in federal funding — and the whims of the Congressional funding process.
“Rahm Emanuel recognized that [the Red Line extension] is the most important extension option for the city of Chicago,” says Steve Schlickman, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center and former head of the Regional Transit Authority, the parent agency of the CTA.
“But,” Schlickman adds, “there is no financial plan by which to build that extension.”
In the late 1960’s, the CTA Red Line was extended south to 95th St. in the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway. The Red Line was already extended to the very northern tip of Chicago that touches Evanston, so city planners envisioned extending the south end to 130th St. – the southern tip of the city.
In the last four decades, there has been periodic talk of fulfilling this vision – and thereby connecting disadvantaged far South Side neighborhoods, like Roseland, to the rest of the city.
Such talk was revived when Emanuel become Mayor in May. Emanuel released a transition report that declared modernizing the Red Line and also extending it to 130th St. were the new administration’s top CTA priorities.
Already, the administration worked with CTA to secure state funding to rehab tracks and stations on both the Red and Purple Lines.
As for the Red Line extension, CTA begins their official environmental impact study of the project next month, which is necessary to qualify for federal funding. The study should take 18 months to 24 months and, at that point, Far South Side transit advocates are hopeful that the extension would begin.
“We are hoping to secure federal funding by the late part of 2013,” said John Paul Jones, an organizer for the Developing Communities Project, a faith-based group in Roseland.
Jones has worked to get the Red Line extended for years, and so has a healthy dose of skepticism. But he’s optimistic, noting that CTA is pursuing a private contractor to shape the project’s design and construction. “It’s a good sign that they are trying to line up a public-private partnership,” Jones says.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer, whose 6th ward lies just north of 95th St., is also hopeful. “It seems as if things are moving in a promising fashion,” Sawyer says. “I know people complain about the process taking so long, but it’s a pretty aggressive expansion.”
Insufficient funding, though, can render the whole process moot.
The transit authority is a freestanding government agency, neither part of state nor city government budgets. CTA is part of the Regional Transit Authority, which means they must fight with Metra regional trains and Pace suburban buses for operations expenses.
As for capital expenses – rehabbing stations and rails and extending services – CTA gets money from federal, state, and city government as well as some private money.
For smaller projects – like building a new station by the McCormick Place Convention Center – CTA can rely on Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts for money. Jones said that he and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) are working with the city to create TIF districts on the Far South Side that could help fund the Red Line extension project.
However, the Red Line project is estimated to cost $1.4 billion, a price tag that necessitates federal cash.
The most reliable source of federal money derives from the five-year surface transportation bill.
That bill is being rewritten now. A bill passed by the Republican-controlled House drastically reduces money for CTA and other public transit agencies. A bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate would keep funding levels about constant. “We support the Senate version of the transportation bill,” Jones says.
Another potential source of federal funding would be a member of Congress successfully earmarking money, perhaps with a nudge from Emanuel, for the Red Line extension. “A large grant from Washington is certainly in the realm of possibility,” says Joseph Schwieterman, a professor of public service at DePaul University.
But Schwieterman argues that the Red Line extension remains “a pretty big headache without a clear funding source.”
Meanwhile, far South Side transit advocates push forward. Sawyer will hold a forum February 25 on Red Line improvements. Also, Jones’s Development Communities Project has lined up a meeting with CTA this month.
Image: 6th Ward Blogspot