Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday offered a sunny counter-balance to the almost daily beating Chicago has endured about its skyrocketing murder rate from President Donald Trump.
In a speech he pre-hyped as a “major address” on infrastructure, Emanuel outlined a 40,000-job sequel to the 2012 plan he called “Building a New Chicago.”
It includes forging ahead with a high-speed rail line between downtown and O’Hare Airport, delivering on his 2011 campaign promise to extend the CTA’s Red Line south to 130th Street and finally following through on plans to “renovate and expand” Union Station.
“I am making it a priority to get this done,” Emanuel said of the Union Station project he hopes will be bankrolled by $1 billion in federal funding.
Trump campaigned on a law-and-order promise to take the shackles off police officers and return to stop-and-frisk policing.
Emanuel believes the long-term answer to stopping the bloodshed on Chicago streets lies in bringing down sky-high unemployment in inner-city neighborhoods.
“When you build it, jobs will come,” he told an audience of movers and shakers at the Chicagoland Laborers District Council Training & Apprentice Fund, 5700 W. Homer.
The O’Hare express project has been an elusive dream of Chicago mayors for decades.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley once hoped to convince Chinese investors to build a high-speed rail system to O’Hare that would originate from the $200 million Block 37 super-station.
It never happened, leaving the underground station looking like little more than an unfinished basement.
Emanuel vowed Thursday to turn the dream into reality.
The mayor said engineering and design giant WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff is continuing to identify potential routes, develop a cost estimate, and pinpoint the location of downtown and airport stations, under terms of a $2 million contract awarded a year ago.
In the meantime, the city is retaining Bob Rivkin, who served as general counsel under Emanuel’s long-time friend, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, to provide “legal expertise in identifying a clear path forward and working with potential partners,” Emanuel said.
“If London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Toronto can offer this service, the city of Chicago can and must also offer it,” the mayor said.
“We have been hearing from potential investors and companies from around the world about their interest in this project. Bob, working with Aviation and our engineers, have made progress in identifying the routes to move this forward, creating faster connections between the economic engines of O’Hare and … our Central Business District. This can pay dividends for generations to come for the city of Chicago and continue to secure its place in the world economy.”
Once again, Emanuel did not say how much the project would cost or how it would be financed.
Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans has said she’s confident business travelers would be willing to pay a premium fare — in the $25-to-$35 range — for express service that would whisk them between downtown and O’Hare in 20 or 25 minutes. That’s roughly half the time it takes to take the Blue Line.
Evans was among airline and airport executives who met with Trump at the White House on Thursday to talk about the President’s plan to cut taxes and reduce regulations.
The CTA has already begun engineering work on an extension of the Red Line South to 130th Street.
But, funding for the project has not yet been secured.
Still, CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said the transit TIF that nailed down $1.1 billion in federal funds to modernize the CTA’s Red Line holds the key.
“The TIF that we got down in Springfield last year also can fund the non-federal match for the Red Line extension. It authorized that project along with the [Red-Purple Modernization]. Between that and federal funding and other funding that we’ll identify, we’ll find a way,” Carter said.
For African-American aldermen in the audience, the mayor’s speech was a welcome respite from Trump’s non-stop negativity about Chicago.
“It was good news amidst a lot of bad stuff that’s happening in the city. To hear the positive things, I see the hope. I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Ald. Michelle Harris (8th).
“We need to promote some of the positive things going well for Chicago — other than just the violence. The President doesn’t live here. He can say all the negative stuff he wants to say. But, it doesn’t represent the communities across the city. To say Chicago and throw it out there like every community is ravaged — it’s not.”
West Side Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) was thrilled to hear talk of “jobs instead of guns and violence.” But, she didn’t hear enough about projects that bring jobs to the West Side.
“I kept telling my [South Side] colleague, ‘I’m happy for you. I won’t hate on you. But, I want a little more on the West Side. In my community, companies are not coming. People are not moving into the area. They’re moving out of the area,” Mitts said.