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Emanuel’s surprise pitch: Overhaul south leg of CTA Green Line

While in Washington on Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a pitch for rebuilding the southern legs of the CTA's Green Line, which would include the Garfield station, 320 E. Garfield Blvd. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he used his first meeting with President Donald Trump’s senior staff to make a surprise push to rebuild the CTA’s Green Line.

Last week, Emanuel announced plans to build a new Green Line station at Damen and Lake to fill a 1.5-mile gap in the CTA system and serve a burgeoning residential and business area, students at the new Malcolm X College and fans attending events at the United Center.

But, the Green Line overhaul that Emanuel talked about at the White House on Monday was far more extensive than just one station. The mayor boldly pitched an overhaul of the entire south leg during his first round of “relationship-building” meetings with Trump’s senior staff. Attendees included Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner; chief of staff Reince Priebus; Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council and Dina Powell, senior counselor for economic initiatives.

“Given [the fact that] the president is interested infrastructure, the Green Line runs through the West Side and the South Side of Chicago,” the mayor said. “We did major expansion on the South Side Red Line. We’re doing major investments. They are working on the 95th Street station. The final project, which is about $240 million.

“What we did on the Red Line South — we’re not done yet. The Red line north, the Blue Line, let us do it now on the Green Line.”

The Lake Street branch of the Green Line runs to Harlem Avenue in Oak Park. In 1994, that west leg closed for what was then the largest rehabilitation project in the CTA’s history.

It reopened two years later, but six stations were closed indefinitely, infuriating commuters.

Emanuel is now talking about rebuilding the south leg of the Green Line and its two branches. One goes to 63rd and Ashland, the other goes to 63rd and Cottage Grove. That second branch stops a few blocks west of the site of the planned Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park; it is not known if extending that leg to Jackson Park is part of the mayor’s vision.

Four years ago, Emanuel rolled the dice and ordered a five-month closing to rebuild the Red Line South. It could have been a disaster for commuters and a political nightmare for Emanuel. But the $425 million project was carried out with military precision. Red Line riders raved about their free express bus rides to the Garfield Green Line station and were reluctant to give them up.

Pressed for specifics on Emanuel’s vision for a Green Line overhaul, press secretary Matt McGrath released an emailed statement filled with generalities. It noted that jobs and economic opportunity in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods are long-term solutions to Chicago’s skyrocketing murder rate.
“Rebuilding the Green Line is one way the administration could ‘send in the feds,’ create jobs, and help improve public safety,” McGrath wrote.
The Green Line renovation is just one of several major infrastructure projects that Emanuel hopes will be included in the massive infrastructure bill that Trump has promised to unveil.

The other three are the elusive dream of an express train from downtown to O’Hare Airport; the long-awaited expansion and renovation of Union Station that Emanuel hopes to build with $1 billion in federal funding and the long-promised extension of the CTA’s Red Line from 95th Street to 130th.