City Council must vote to keep Red Line extension plan on track

It’s a potential win for the city — and we certainly could use a few Ws these days — as well as the South Side.

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A CTA Red Line train, at the Garfield stop, in 2012.

City Council on Wednesday votes on a funding plan to help the CTA extend the Red Line to 103rd Street.

Sun-Times file

The City Council can do an immeasurable civic good on Wednesday by giving the green signal to a plan to help fund the long-awaited 5.6-mile extension of the CTA Red Line.

If alderpersons approve the $959 million transit TIF district, it will put the city in good stead to get $2.2 billion in federal funds that will allow the CTA to finally extend the Red Line to 130th Street from its current terminus at 95th Street.

The project would provide a measure of much-needed transit equity to the city by bringing CTA rail service closer to nearly 100,000 Far South Side residents — and to the close-in south suburban commuters as well.

And if done in a smart way, the four new stations along the extension could serve as the nucleus for economic development in an area of the city where it’s sorely needed.

Editorial

Editorial

It’s a potential win for the city — and we certainly could use a few Ws these days — as well as the South Side. We strongly urge the Council to approve the plan, which this editorial board has championed since 2020.

‘For the greater good’

The extension plan has had a needlessly complicated battle this fall, with alderpersons previously hinting they might hold up the funding until CTA President Dorval Carter appeared before the City Council to address crime and service problems on the transit system.

Carter, a transit vet, should’ve read the room better and attended the meetings, and ultimately he did so last month. He also attended and spoke at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, where alderpersons approved the transit TIF legislation and sent the measure to the full City Council for Wednesday’s vote.

But more troubling than Carter’s absences were the alderpersons who objected to the plan because it called for funding the extension with 35 years of tax revenue increases captured from properties near the Red Line between Madison Street and Pershing Road — miles north of the project.

The objection surfaced at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose South Side ward falls within the boundaries of the proposed transit TIF, voted against the measure, telling her Finance Committee colleagues “five wards pay but don’t nearly see any of the benefits” of the extension.

“It’s a citywide issue that should be funded by the entire city,” she said, adding the state and county “should have some skin in the game” and contribute to the extension.

Fortunately, Dowell’s lone “no” vote wasn’t enough to derail approval.

Besides, the bigger issue — as we see it — is that Far South Side commuters and taxpayers have been short-sheeted for 53 years by a rail system that is at least two sizes too small for the area it needs to serve.

The result of all that has been a half century of braving longer transit times, or having to do battle on the packed Dan Ryan Expressway, just to have a shot at getting to work, school or appointments on time.

And the same transit system, by the way, runs trains to the suburbs of Oak Park, Forest Park, Skokie, Evanston, Wilmette, Cicero and Rosemont — but not to Chicago’s Far South Side.

Talk about paying for a system without seeing any benefits.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who represents the West Side, spoke up for the Red Line extension in the Finance Committee meeting. He said tax revenue from the prosperous eastern half of his ward is used to fund projects and development across the city.

“It’s for the greater good,” he correctly pointed out. “We have to stop thinking we’re just one area. We’re a whole city.”

Down the line, a role for the state?

If the $959 million transit TIF is passed by the City Council and the CTA secures the $2.2 billion in federal funds, the $3.6 billion project still has a $300 million shortfall.

Carter told alderpersons Monday the CTA could cover the difference with its own funds or through a bond issue.

And although we don’t believe the extension project should be held up, we agree with Dowell and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) that CTA must now have a sit-down with the Pritzker administration over funding, especially given the staggering amounts of money and possible debt at play.

But that’s a conversation for another day — right after the City Council does the right thing and passes the Red Line transit TIF.

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