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.”