LaHood Suggests Chicago Riverwalk Financing Will Be Approved Soon

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CDOT rendering of "The River Theater" section of the riverwalk extension.

Things are looking promising for our city’s latest high-profile public space plan, the Chicago Riverwalk extension. In an interview Tuesday with Streetsblog Capitol Hill editor Tanya Snyder, outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood implied that a Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act loan will soon be approved that will help bankroll the $90-100 million project.

“There’s a project that we’ll be announcing, probably in the next month or so in Chicago, where they’ve applied for a TIFIA loan,” LaHood said. “They’re going to really capture the essence of the Chicago River, which has never been done. It’s going to be a riverwalk! And it’s going to really capture the great natural resource of the Chicago River and connect Chicago. And that couldn’t have been done without the TIFIA program.”

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LaHood announces a TIGER III grant for CTA repairs and bike share at the Logan Square Blue Line station in 2011. Photo by John Greenfield.

This new segment of riverwalk would stretch from State to Lake Streets along the south bank of the waterway, incorporating six different themed sections delineated by the river bridges. The different areas would range from “The Jetty” fishing area to “The Cove” kayak dock to “The Swimming Hole” water play zone. The riverwalk would also serve as a car-free pedestrian commuting route for Loop workers and residents.

Assuming the TIFIA loan is approved, construction on the section between State and LaSalle streets could start as soon as this summer, according to Chicago Department of Transportation Project Manager Michelle Woods. It’s not yet clear how the city would repay the loan, but one possibility is Tax Increment Financing, which earmarks increases in property tax revenue within a designated TIF district for use in that district. And, as with the Bloomingdale linear park, another marquee recreation and transportation project, the city will be seeking private donors to help fund ongoing maintenance and programming on the riverwalk.