Route defined, where will city find $2.3B to fund CTA Red Line extension?

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel looks on as CTA President Dorval Carter discusses a plan to extend the Red Line’'s south branch from 95th Street to 130th Street during a press conference near 103rd and Harvard, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. The 5.3-mile extension would add four new stations near 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue near 115th Street and 130th Street, and is estimated to cost $2.3 billion. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the idea of extending the CTA’s Red Line from its south terminus at 95th Street all the way to 130th has been “talked about ad nauseam” and it’s time to stop talking and start delivering.

But what the mayor delivered Friday was more talk.

Sure, he’s further along than any of his predecessors, having chosen a specific route for the 5.3-mile extension and secured $85 million for engineering and environmental studies.

The route would run along the west side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks from I-57 south to about 109th Street, then cross over to the east side of the UP tracks until it crosses the Metra Electric tracks near 119th Street before continuing south to 130th Street.


Four new stations would be built – near 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue near 115th Street and 130th Street. Displacement would be limited to 154 privately owned parcels that include 79 buildings.

But what good is a route if you don’t have the $2.3 billion needed to build a project that would open in 2026 at the earliest?

“We’re gonna talk about making sure that the federal and state partners are a part of this. We’re looking at… multiple different ways of funding it. I’m not gonna tell you yet because this is the first step,” Emanuel said Friday.

Earlier this week, Emanuel described President Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure program as “fairy dust.”

Can “fairy dust” from a president with whom Emanuel has been engaged in a year-long war of words help pay for a $2.3 billion project?

“I’m confident we will have the resources and secure the resources because of the significance of the project and the investment the city is willing to make,” the mayor said.

“I’m not relying on everybody else. But they have to do their part — like they have in every other project we have done.”

This is the proposed route of the South Side Red Line expansion.

This is the proposed route of the South Side Red Line expansion.

Fourteen months ago, the City Council set a go-it-alone precedent that lets the state and federal governments off the hook when it comes to mass transit projects.

Aldermen hastily authorized a transit tax-increment-financing (TIF) district in a race to nail down $1.1 billion in federal funds to modernize the CTA’s Red Line before then-President Barack Obama left office.

CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said it’s too early to talk about using a transit TIF, Emanuel’s slow-starting Infrastructure Trust, an increased ride-sharing fee or “any another other innovative funding stream” to bankroll the Red Line extension.

“The TIF legislation was really a stop-gap measure because I didn’t have a state capital plan and I was going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding if I didn’t get that commitment. It was never intended to be the foundation to meet all of our capital needs,” Carter said.

Emanuel was elected in 2011 on the strength of the African-American vote and re-elected in 2015 with help from black voters who forgave him for closing a record 50 public schools.

He has spent the last two years trying to rehabilitate an image with black voters that took a beating after his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

As he prepares to ask Chicago voters to give him a third chance, Emanuel desperately needs to show some kind of progress toward delivering on his 2011 promise to extend the Red Line South to 130th.

The handful of African-American aldermen who joined Emanuel in Roseland’s Block Park at 103rd and Harvard were asked whether Friday’s route announcement would be enough of a political boost.

“Anything you can show you’re doing to keep your promises and bring development into under-served areas is a great thing. The 95th Street station will also help,” said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st).

“Even though there was some controversy with respect to the Englewood high school, that situation helps because it shows he’s willing to put money into African-American communities, which is a criticism he gets from a lot of people in the community.”

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) flatly predicted that the project long promised and desperately needed to give Far South Side residents the mass transit parity and quick access to jobs they have long deserved “is going to happen in my time” in the City Council.

“I believe in the mayor’s tenacity. He stays on it. He never lets it linger and linger…He can shake some trees”—even under Trump, Austin said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) added, “This is a promise made over 40 years ago…This is another victory, another step closer to where we need to be to get this thing under construction.”

See RAHM EMANUEL’s full statement on the CTA Red Line extension:

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