Lightfoot breaks ground on biggest-ever CTA project, thanks to foundation laid by Rahm Emanuel

Emanuel pushed through a transit TIF to provide the local matching funds to modernize the Red and Purple lines. But nobody said a word about the former mayor as ground was broken on the project Wednesday.

SHARE Lightfoot breaks ground on biggest-ever CTA project, thanks to foundation laid by Rahm Emanuel
Rendering of the Belmont flyover, which will eliminate delays from Brown Line trains crossing the Red and Purple trains.

When the project is completed, the track for northbound Brown Line trains will pass far over the southbound Red and Purple line tracks, eliminating delays that now result from Brown Line trains crossing the Red and Purple tracks.

CTA rendering

Three years ago, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved heaven and earth to nail down $1.1 billion in federal grants to modernize the CTA’s Red Line before then-President Barack Obama left the White House.  

Emanuel persuaded the City Council to authorize a transit tax-increment-financing district to provide the local matching funds that once would have been provided by a state capital bill and signed the ordinance on the final day for the city to demonstrate its commitment.

On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. at a groundbreaking ceremony for the largest reconstruction project in CTA history.  

Nobody said a word about Rahm Emanuel.

Carter simply talked about “going down to Springfield and getting a TIF put in place that was dedicated exclusively and solely to public transit that allowed me to fund the non-federal match that I needed to make this project happen.”

He added: “It started ten years ago when our chief infrastructure officer came to see me and basically said, `If we don’t rebuild the Red-Purple Line, we’re gonna have to shut it down.’”

Carter had worked for the CTA years ago, then joined the Obama administration, then returned to the CTA as president under Emanuel.

A northbound Brown Line train leaves the Belmont station.

A northbound Brown Line train leaves the Belmont station. For now, it must cross southbound tracks to continue north, leading to delays.

Sun-Times file

The project includes three major components:

• The Belmont flyover, a massive elevated structure that will eliminate the “Clark Junction,” a century-old bottleneck where the northbound Brown Line crosses the southbound Red and Purple Lines.

To build the controversial flyover, the CTA had to seize 23 parcels of land, including 16 buildings.

“This bypass will carry northbound Brown line trains up and over Red and Purple Line tracks, eliminating the need for trains to stop and wait for other trains to cross,” the mayor said at a ceremony also attended by Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Mike Quigley.

The end result will be “eight more Red Line trains-per- hour during rush hour, 7,200 additional customers per hour during that time period” and a 60% increase in train speeds, Lightfoot said.

• Reconstructed stations at Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr, with wider platforms, better lighting and longer canopies. All four stations will be 100 percent ADA accessible. Six miles of century-old track structure will be replaced.

“No resident should have to … travel great distances and add a significant amount of time to their commute just to have ADA-compliant stations,” Lightfoot said.

• A new signal system on 23 track-miles from Howard to Belmont, improving train flow and reliability.

Map showing Belmont flyover and other aspects of the Chicago Transit Authority’s Red and Purple Line modernization project.

The modernized Brown Line will include the “Belmont flyover,” allowing northbound trains to pass over the southbound Red and Purple tracks, eliminating delays.

Chicago Transit Authority

Carter acknowledged CTA riders and North Side residents must endure five years of short-term pain to realize the long-term gain.

“It’s gonna be disruptive. We’re gonna be closing streets and alleys. ... It’s gonna be noisy. It’s gonna be dirty. But we’re also doing everything we can to mitigate those impacts,” Carter said.

“There’s gonna be delays,” he added, but “once this work gets done, the benefits to the community are ten-fold.”

Under a normal TIF, property taxes are frozen at existing levels for 23 years. During that time, money from the “increment,” or growth in property taxes, is held in a special fund and used for specific purposes that include infrastructure, public improvements and developer subsidies.

This transit TIF, however, will remain in place for 35 years. The financially strapped Chicago Public Schools will get its 50 percent share of the growth off the top. The transit TIF will get 80 percent of the rest.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall has warned of the precedent set — and the pressure being placed on beleaguered Chicago property owners — by the city’s decision to go it alone.

Lincoln Park residents already hit with the double-whammy of rising property taxes and increased assessments have warned that the transit improvements could send their property taxes through the roof.

The city’s own debt service table fueled their fears. It showed the transit TIF generating $113.5 million by 2033 and $851 million by 2033.

Lightfoot mentioned none of that as she turned the shovel, thanks to the groundwork laid by Emanuel.

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