Feds Include Red/Purple Rehab and Ashland BRT on Lists for Future Funding

Purple Line express train
A Purple Line Evanston Express train. Photo: Ben Schumin

There was some good news last week for two of the Chicago Transit Authority’s big upcoming projects. On Wednesday the Obama administration recommended the CTA’s Red & Purple Modernization project for fiscal year 2015 funding, and included the Ashland bus rapid transit corridor on a lists of transit projects for possible future funding. However, approval by Congress is no sure thing.

The CTA has applied to enter “project development,” the first phase of the FTA’s review and funding process, for the RPM project, which will rehab the tracks and stations along 9.6 miles of the Red and Purple lines between Belmont and Wilmette. “This does not mean we have applied for the actual funds,” CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said. “CTA is working through how much money we will be asking for on RPM for fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015.”

RPM aims to speed the trains, increase capacity by 20 to 50 percent, reduce platform crowding, and provide access for people with disabilities at all stops. The CTA has estimated that the project will cost $2-4 billion; FTA puts the cost at $4.7 billion. The CTA plans to ask for a total of $1.5 billion from the FTA’s “core capacity” program, which funds capacity expansions for existing transit systems; additional grants could come from other federal funding sources. If all goes well with funding, construction could begin as soon as three years from now.

The FTA is recommending setting aside $275 million in fiscal year 2015 for core capacity projects, and so far RPM is the only project that has applied, and therefore the only one named on the core capacity list. However, that doesn’t mean RPM will be getting all $275 million, because other transit systems across the country may also apply for the money.

Ashland BRT is not included for funding in the 2015 budget, Lukidis said. However, Phase I of the BRT project, from 31st to Cortland, is included in a list of projects that have entered the FTA federal funding process. This 5.5.-mile stretch is estimated to cost $116.9 million, including the purchase of 50 BRT buses, which can be paid for from an existing CTA bus fund.

Ashland BRT is in the running for future funding via the federal Small Starts program, which provides grants for capital costs associated with new rail systems and line extensions, as well as bus corridor improvements. BRT projects in Oakland, Eugene, El Paso, Nashville, and Vancouver, Washington, were recommended for Small Starts funding in 2015. The CTA expects to seek $58.3 million in Small Starts funding for Ashland in the future.

Lukidis said last week’s announcement affects RPM more than BRT. However, she added that Ashland BRT has taken an important step by entering into the FTA’s rating and funding process. “Should the project receive a high FTA rating in the future, the CTA looks forward to engaging the FTA on discussions regarding federal funding.”

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    So what happened to the “We will get 80% funding for BRT” chant.

    Looks like 50% to me. Which in a post several months back I pointed out that the Cleveland Healthline BRT did not get close to 80% funding from the Feds.

    If you take in today’s other news that there is very little transit money available for long term transit project with CTA & Metra, one has to ask again whether the Ashland BRT will just cannibalize funds meant for other bus routes?

  • duppie

    $4.7 Billion?

    Wonder what you could do with a fraction of that money modernizing UP-N line.
    – 3 tracks all the way to Evanston.
    – Electrify the outer tracks.
    – Aqcuire modern European style electric trains with multiple entrances per car.
    – Build half a dozen new stations (Diversey, Irving Park, Peterson, Howard, and some others).
    – Allow the center track as an express lane for trains to/from farther north than Evanston.
    – Build a transfer station somewhere in Evanston allowing people to transfer from electric train to suburban commuter line and vice versa.

    That would allow you to run frequent (every 5 minutes) service during rush hour, creating efficient 21st century service for potential hundreds of thousands of people, inclduing people living in Far Northern suburbs

  • JacobEPeters

    It is not a either or proposition. The Red Line cannot continue to operate without a modernization project. The $4.7 billion figure was only thrown around for the tunnel alternative if I remember correctly, which was scrapped. Plus improvements to allow for 2 minute frequencies on the Red Line and 10 car trains will create 21st century rail service for more than 100,000 passengers on day one. Electrification should be a goal of our commuter rail system, but improving urban rail is just as important.

  • what_eva

    Projects (as John notes) often get funding from multiple programs. That’s a bid for 50% of the cost from one program. That doesn’t mean that more money can’t be requested from other programs.

  • JacobEPeters

    50% from the feds, and the bus purchasing costs are already in the budget, so something near 80% of the funds could already be identified without having even heard from the state.

    BRT will require less operating expense per passenger mile than existing buses. If anything it will free up money for operating better bus service on other bus routes.

  • Kevin M

    I agree with JacobEPeters. Electrifying the Metra system makes a lot of sense, but the north end of the CTA’s Redline is in serious need of rehab.

  • david vartanoff

    Of course the Metra lines should be electrified AND fare integrated/coordinated better w/ CTA. That said, the RPM is a necessity–times from Howard to the loop are near;y 10′ slower than in the 60s. And that is if they aren’t backed up, delayed @ Clark Junction hit by some new slow order because another part of the embankment section is falling apart. Both the Metra Electric and the Red/Purple north of Wilson Av were raised up in 1926–the concrete is crumbling. Metra and CTA have skimped on maintenance for decades and the results are mediocre service.
    As to Ashland BRT, as I have written before, the plan at present is sub optimal.

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