With an eye on the next big thing — the $2.3 billion southern expansion of the Red Line — Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday broke ground on a North Side CTA project with funding firmly in place: reconstruction of four century-old stations and the track structures in between.
Five 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, Lightfoot joined CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at a groundbreaking ceremony for yet another phase of the largest reconstruction project in CTA history.
It calls for Red Line stations at Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr to be rebuilt and replaced by ultra-modern stations with wider platforms, brighter lighting and elevators serving passengers with disabilities.
The century-old track structure between the four contiguous stations will be rebuilt to give passengers a smoother, more comfortable and reliable ride.
The project will be completed in two stages. First, the track structure from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr will be demolished, paving the way for Walsh-Fluor, the CTA’s contractor, to rebuild the northbound tracks by late 2022.
During Phase One, Red and Purple Line trains will share the other two tracks, normally reserved for southbound trains.
In Phase Two, the southbound Red and Purple Line tracks will be demolished and replaced and the four new stations will be built.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Carter acknowledged the massive Red Purple Modernization Project would not have been possible without the innovative transit TIF.
But for the second time in two years, neither he nor Lightfoot mentioned the out-sized role Emanuel played.
Carter was also asked about a bill approved by the Illinois General Assembly in recent days expanding that transit TIF and the impact it could have on securing funding for the long-stalled plan to extend the Red Line south to 130th Street from its current terminus at 95th.
“We need to make some changes to allow it to be a little bit easier to put the TIF in place for the Red Line extension project and to extend it to cover the rail yard that’s part of the project that would be at 130th Street,” Carter said.
“The legislation that passed down in Springfield was really a technical amendment to the transit TIF legislation … It wasn’t an expansion of funding in any way. It was really just making some procedural adjustments to the process by which you put a TIF in place.”
The extension to 130th is expected to add four new stations and cost about $2.3 billion.
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.
Carter reiterated the Red Line South extension is a “priority project for me” and said he is “committed” to securing the funding.
Pointing to negotiations in Washington over President Joe Biden’s proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill, Carter said, “I am very optimistic about our ability to get the funding that we need to make that project become a reality and we are already committed to spending the money that we need to move it through the process so it can be eligible for the funding grant that will allow us to construct this project in the near future.”
Durbin said the “chance of success depends on” how big the infrastructure package turns out to be.
“The other party has a different view than we do. I support President Joe Biden. Joe Biden wants to invest in America with good-paying jobs and built an infrastructure to rebuild our economy. Many of my other colleagues want to spend much less,” Durbin said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., said Biden is still trying to win support from Republicans, who favor a much smaller infrastructure package, but should proceed without that support if he must.
“I think the prospects are great. And if we have to go this alone, it’s just too important not to,” Quigley said.