The state should help fund CTA’s proposed Red Line extension

This extension will support the economic engine of the state, creating jobs, expanding economic development and industry, contributing to state coffers and bringing people back to Chicago and Illinois to live, work, raise families and invest.

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CTA Red Line trains wait to come in at the 95th Red Line station on Chicago’s Southside, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

CTA Red Line trains wait to come in at the 95th Red Line station on Chicago’s Southside, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

As a follow-up to Lee Bey’s Nov. 5 column on the CTA’s proposed Red Line extension: As someone at the table during discussions regarding a similarly funded program, the CTA’s Red Purple Modernization (RPM) project, I wanted to share some additional context and background.

The RPM Transit TIF (unique and the only of its kind in the city) was created due to lack of funding from the state of Illinois. To receive the more than $1 billion in federal funding to support the first phase of RPM, CTA and the city were required to provide a local funding match.

In June 2016, the Illinois General Assembly approved a new financial tool for this purpose: Transit Tax Increment Financing (TIF). This new type of TIF was premised on a “value capture” concept for transit investments and provided the necessary funding to renovate the 100+-year-old CTA infrastructure, which is vital to the heartbeat of the city.

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The RLE will provide the same level of impact, dramatically improving travel times and access to opportunity. Travelers between 130th Street and downtown will save up to 30 minutes (each way) and can connect to the extensive CTA rail network to reach additional neighborhoods and jobs.

It will improve mobility in an area of the city with some of the longest commutes and support economic development around the new stations, just as other major station investments across the city have.

With the state’s gas tax “holiday” ending in January, I implore our state elected officials to contribute to funding this significant transportation and equity investment for the region.

The impact of this project will be felt beyond the boundaries of the city. Residents of south suburban Cook County will also benefit from improved mobility and travel times, and the economic activity driven by this $3.6 billion investment will have regional and state-level impacts.

Thanks to the efforts of Gov. J. B. Pritzker, the state is now in the position to assist with funding. I urge the legislature to take the next steps to allocate state dollars for the RLE, to support the economic engine of the state, create jobs, expand economic development and industry, contribute to state coffers and bring people back to Chicago and Illinois to live, work, raise families and invest.

Ald. Thomas Tunney, 44th Ward

Peoples Gas upgrades the best way to go

The Sun-Times editorial board did Chicagoans a disservice in its editorial, “Turn down the dial on rising Peoples Gas costs.” The editorial recommends steps that would undermine safety and create far higher costs for Chicagoans. Further, its recommendations would create a system where homes belonging to the wealthy are heated one way – a way only the rich can afford – while families with modest incomes are left with a leaky, corroding system from the 1800s. 

Here are the facts …

The board claimed Peoples Gas’ work to replace aging pipes is costing more than expected and is behind schedule. The truth, as anyone can see for themself in reports filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission, is the program is on target for completion in 2040, and in line with expected costs.

Upgrades to ensure Chicago’s heating infrastructure remains safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable currently cost the typical heating customer approximately $15 a month. The board calls that unaffordable yet at the same time suggests Chicagoans should each pay tens of thousands of dollars to rip out their furnace and buy an entirely new system, one that struggles in cold temperatures. How much would that cost? By city calculations, $60,000 per home.

With federal subsidies covering at most just $8,000, Chicagoans cannot afford that. Not even close. This is precisely why upgrading the current antiquated system is so important, so that average Chicagoans who don’t have an extra $52,000 on hand can still have a safe, reliable, environmentally sustainable system to keep warm during our cold winters.

An independent engineering study ordered by the state determined 83% of the iron pipes under Chicago’s streets have a remaining life of less than 15 years. The risk to Chicagoans is real. Two years ago, hundreds of people in Texas died when they lost heat in a big winter storm. We cannot let that happen in Chicago.

Even as our city transitions to renewable energy, the investment in the network of pipes to deliver energy will benefit Chicagoans for generations. An increasingly sustainable future will include renewable natural gas and the potential use of the Peoples Gas distribution system for a carbon-free, hydrogen-fueled economy.

Peoples Gas very much looks forward to a bright, sustainable future. We just need to make sure in that future, and every step that leads to it, that Chicagoans in every neighborhood and at every level of income have safe, reliable, environmentally sustainable heat.

Torrence L. Hinton, president, Peoples Gas

(Note: The Editorial Board stands by its reporting.)

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