City Council OKs mass transit TIF to help bankroll Red Line South extension

The new transit tax increment financing district will fund about one-fourth of the cost of extending the CTA Red Line to 130th Street.

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A Red Line train travels toward the 95th Street station on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

A Red Line train heads toward the 95th Street station, currently the end of the line. But the Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved a major piece of the funding needed to extend that line south to 130th Street and add four new stations.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Former Mayor Richard J. Daley talked about extending the Red Line South to 130th Street.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot can now say she helped deliver the $3.6 billion extension that will finally provide mass transit service to the only part of Chicago without it.

With only one dissenting vote on five companion ordinances, the City Council made it happen Wednesday, creating a new transit tax increment financing district to bankroll $959 million — 26% — of the cost to extend the CTA’s Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street.

That includes four new stations: 103rd Street; 111th Street near Eggleston Avenue; Michigan Avenue near 116th Street; and the new terminus, 130th Street near Altgeld Gardens.

“I remember as a kid growing up talking about the extension. That was a buzz throughout the community. People were saying, ‘When will we get ours?’ ” Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), whose Far South Side ward would benefit the most, said as he opened debate.

“Our community has been disinvested, disenfranchised and disconnected for a very long time. ... We have an opportunity to turn the ship around. ... Look deep into your heart and fulfill the promise made 50 years ago,” Beale urged.

Indicted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) urged her colleagues to “open the doors” of opportunity for “those who live that Far South.”

Austin noted that she had to give up her ward because there are fewer residents — and that’s due, in part, to the Far South Side being cut off from the rest of the city.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the Black Caucus, acknowledged some colleagues “may not like how this is being funded,” but “to have a portion of the city disconnected has been a travesty.”

Retiring Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th) said he is “totally in support” of the extension, but “we need partners at the state and the county.”

Tunney accused Cook County of “passing the buck on this.”

After the vote, Lightfoot rose from the rostrum to say the project was a “long, long time coming” and “absolutely needed. It gives us an opportunity to take advantage of historic federal dollars.”

She thanked President Joe Biden’s administration for “recognizing that there are these big, mega-projects that need federal funding — and this is one of them.”

The unusual new TIF district isn’t in the area where the money will be spent. Beale has called it a “rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul” approach. The district covers a half-mile on either side of the Red Line, from Madison Street south to Pershing Road. Property tax growth over the next 35 years in that area will fund part of the extension.

As a result, five wards nowhere near the Far South Side (the 3rd, 4th, 11th, 25th and 42nd) will bear the burden — but their residents aren’t the prime beneficiaries of the new service.

That’s why Budget Committee Chair Pat Dowell (3rd) opposes the financing plan, though she chose not to speak on Wednesday before casting the lone “no” vote.

Dowell previously has said the extension is desperately needed, will save time for Far South Side commuters, and put “58% more jobs with a reasonable, 45-minute commute.” But she wants everyone to pitch in.

The areas in gray, between Madison Street and Pershing Road along the existing Red Line, will be part of the tax increment financing district that will help fund the extension of the Red Line.

The areas in gray, between Madison Street and Pershing Road along the existing Red Line, will be part of the tax increment financing district that will help fund the extension of the Red Line farther to the south.

Chicago Department of Planning and Development

“When you take TIF money from one neighborhood and spend it in another, it really feels like theft. It feels low down and dirty,” Dowell told CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. during a Finance Committee hearing earlier this week.

“Because these benefits are citywide, everyone should have skin in the game of paying for this project. This has to include the entire city, include the state of Illinois and Cook County,” Dowell said.

The new mass transit TIF is similar in concept to the one created to bankroll the Red-Purple Line Modernization project on the North Side.

At the urging of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, alderpersons hastily authorized the earlier TIF to provide $622 million in local matching funds. They were racing at the time to nail down $1.1 billion in federal funds before President Barack Obama left office.

But Dowell has argued the Red Line South transit TIF is “not the same” as the one created on the North Side.

“All the communities along the North Side Red Line contributed to funding the modernization, and all the communities got the benefit in terms of better service, shorter commute times, more trains. That’s not the case with the Red Line extension. Five wards pay but don’t nearly see any of the benefits,” she said.

“I’m also very concerned about taking away billions of dollars from the general fund by creating a TIF to pay for the extension,” said Dowell. “Year after year, we face financial challenges as a city and work hard to close any budget gaps. This would not only make that more difficult, it would take away huge amounts of money I know we need to continue to operate as a city and pay for the things our communities need, like public safety, affordable housing, clean drinking water and more.”

At that committee hearing, Carter asked alderpersons for their help, though he said he wished he had “other places I could go” to bankroll the project.

“This community has waited over 30 years to get this. You have the opportunity to give it to them — finally.”

A planned extension of the CTA’s Red Line would add four stations between the current end point of 95th Street and new terminus at 130th.

The Red Line extension will include four new stations.

CTA

Carter framed the vote as a matter of mass transit “fairness” — essentially the same argument Lightfoot made last month in launching her frenzied lobbying campaign to get the TIF approved.

“What I’ve heard is: ‘We did this for the North Side without any hesitation. Without any concerns. Let’s do it for the South Side. Let’s do it for these communities that have been disconnected from rail service forever,” the mayor said then.

Although 40% of federal funding for new mass transit projects “must flow to disadvantaged communities,” the mayor said, “We’ve got to demonstrate to the federal government that we’ve got skin in the game. That we are willing to use our dollars to say, ‘Yes, we will match what is necessary to get this done and get it rolling.’ ”

Commuters wait on the platform at 95th Street on Sept. 26, 1969, the day the station opened.

Commuters wait on the platform at 95th Street on Sept. 26, 1969, the day the station opened.

Sun-Times file

Beale was 2 years old in 1969 when then-Mayor Richard J. Daley opened the 95th Street CTA station — and promised the tracks would be extended to 130th.

Although Beale thanked Lightfoot for carrying the ball to the finish line, he told the Sun-Times her ability to deliver the massive project that her predecessors didn’t has more to do with political good fortune than it does with the mayor’s ability to get things done.

“This phase of the seven-part funding process fell into her lap,” said Beale, an outspoken Lightfoot critic. “The credit should go to me and Carrie Austin for making sure the city made this a priority to have the federal government start this process.”

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