It’s Getting Real: $281M in Funding Earmarked for Red and Purple Rehab

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A northbound Red Line train at the Sheridan stop. Photo: Cragin Spring

The first phase of the Red and Purple Modernization Program – including the hotly contested plan for the Belmont flyover – took a step closer to becoming a reality yesterday. Officials announced that $281 million in federal funding has been earmarked for the initiative, which also includes rebuilding the track structures, viaducts, and stations between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr. That’s nearly 30 percent of the $956.6 million in federal funding the CTA is seeking for Phase 1, now estimated to cost $2.131 billion.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and CTA president Dorval Carter, Jr. announced that Barack Obama’s proposed federal fiscal 2017 budget includes $125 million of funding in 2017 for RPM Phase 1. The money would come from the Federal Transit Administration’s Core Capacity Improvements program, which provides dollars for improvements to older “legacy” transit systems. This news isn’t a surprise, because last September the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning approved the project for the FTA funding.

Also announced on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation has allocated a separate $156 million in new funding provided by Congress for Phase 1. This money had been budgeted for in previous years but never appropriated. The CTA is currently seeking approval of a full-funding agreement from the USDOT. If this is OKed, the transit agency will get the $156 million.

Back in 2014, the CTA received a $35 million Core Capacity grant, which allowed the agency to complete the preliminary planning and engineering work for Phase 1 last year. In December, the modernization project passed its environmental review by the FTA, allowing the project to move on to its engineering phase, which would be followed by construction. Last month CTA officials said the rehab work on the nearly 100-year old train lines could start as early as late 2017.

But it’s important to keep in mind that the announced $125 million in Core Capacity funding isn’t a sure thing, since Obama’s budget is merely a proposal right now. And, of course, there’s a heck of a lot more federal and local money that needs to be found before construction can begin.

The CTA’s next steps for the project include finalizing the funding plan for Phase 1, applying for more federal funding, and selecting a contractor to design and build the project. The local funding would come from a mix of state and city sources.

One possibility for this local funding would be the establishment of a transit-oriented tax-increment financing district around the RPM project site. The TIF would capture the property value and tax revenue increase generated by the improved transit service and earmark it to pay for the construction. Last May the Illinois Senate passed legislation that would enable this strategy, although it’s currently stalled in the House’s rules committee.

Another big hurdle for the project is political opposition. The Belmont flyover, officially called the Red-Purple Bypass, would eliminate the logjam north of the Belmont station, where Red and Purple trains are forced to wait while northbound Brown Line trains cross their tracks at the same level. The CTA says that building the overpass for the Brown trains would allow the agency to run up to eight more Red Line trains, carrying 32 percent (7,200) more riders per hour during rush periods.

That would go a long way towards addressing the current sardine-like conditions on the Red Line during peak hours, not to mention future ridership demand. Ridership along the Red Line corridor grew by 40 percent between 2010 and 2014, and the population of the corridor is projected to grow by at least 25 percent over the next two decades.

The bypass structure is shown without any redeveloped buildings. The CTA said it would work with Alderman Tunney and the city's planning department to create a redevelopment plan. Image: CTA
A CTA rendering of the Belmont flyover with no redevelopment.

However, the perks of building the flyover would come with a price – 16 buildings would need to be demolished to make room for the structure. Understandably, many Central Lakeview residents are fiercely opposed to the project. In a November 2014 ballot referendum involving the three 44th Ward precincts that would be most heavily impacted, 72 percent of the roughly 800 voters were against building the flyover.

There’s one development that offers some reassurance the bypass project wouldn’t permanently gut the neighborhood. Last fall the CTA learned it would receive $1.25 million in funding through FTA’s Transit-Oriented Development Pilot Planning Program.

This year the transit agency will use the funding to hire a consultant to work with local residents and elected officials to create transit-oriented development plans for the area affected by the flyover, as well as the Lawrence-to-Bryn Mawr corridor. “The CTA intends to move forward with its promise to encourage redevelopment,” states a news release on the new RPM funding.

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  • david vartanoff

    Not only should the Belmont flyover happen, but easing the Sheridan curves. And to be clear ALL of the Red Line stations need to become 10 cars long.

  • JacobEPeters

    long term yes. But in the short term can we at least lengthen all of the “transfer” stations to 10 car lengths to match the subway stations? Then we could get some (maybe 6) ten car trains running from Howard express to Belmont (stopping at Wilson when it is done) then local to Roosevelt during the most crowded part of rush hour.

    It would require dropping frequencies on the local red line stations north of Belmont down to 3-5 minutes from the current 2-3 minutes, but it would add ~8% capacity through the most congested portion of the CTA system.

  • ardecila

    It’s interesting. The value-capture strategy the CTA wants to use for the project funding depends either on A) the assumption that a spiffier elevated structure will cause gentrification and thus higher property values, or B) proactive upzoning around stations.

    In lieu of those two things, it just borrows money from future budgets and other neighborhood services like schools, parks, etc.

    I would love to see an upzoning, but neighborhood groups like Lakewood Balmoral have heavily opposed large-scale development along Broadway for selfish reasons, and Rogers Park groups have opposed development on a gentrification platform. In theory the Mayor could pressure Alds. Cappleman/Osterman/Moore and force an upzoning to support CTA… but all upzoned parcels would then be subject to a 10% affordable requirement. The Chicago Zoning Code never contemplated blanket upzonings…

  • kclo3

    Not even in context of the 2015 TOD ordinance upzonings?

  • Jeff Gio

    Here on the NW Side, alderman Moreno has set an example of why alderman should not use the TOD ordinance to allow upzones. The voting electorate all scorn these developments in his ward and consider them evidence of his corruption (jury is still out). There are a lot of independent political organizations organizing against Moreno and the recent TOD upzonings are used to fuel the fire. Maybe my knowledge of the city-wide TOD is limited, but I think other alderman may protect their own jobs by disallowing controversial TODs.

    Would love to hear other’s perspectives or insights on the political palatability of TODs

  • david vartanoff

    or they could restore A-B skipstop to speed all trains end to end.

  • JacobEPeters

    I personally don’t understand the appeal of skip stop service since it decreases frequency of service more than if 1/3 of trains were turned into express. It would decrease total travel time from Howard to Lake by 2 minutes 30 seconds, but wait times would increase by 2 minutes as well. Meaning it is a wash in terms of actual time savings for local stations since you would need the same headways to account for the AB stops. On top of that, because of the headways wouldn’t be reduced, you wouldn’t see an increase in carrying capacity of the mainline. Meaning that skip-stop wouldn’t solve the crowding issue.

    Since the Red Line north of Belmont has excess capacity on an express track, & we are expanding high ridership stations as part of the RPM project, why not phase in more 10 car transfer stations at the highest ridership stations, and turn a portion of the trains into express trains? Loyola would be an obvious next step once Wilson is completed.

  • Chicagoan

    I think you may have said it, but an investment in Union Pacific North is a possible way to ease congestion on the Northside. If the proposed Peterson-Ridge station is done, that would give Northsiders access in Rogers Park, Edgewater, Ravenswood, and Bucktown before the terminal at Ogilvie. If R2 Companies has their way, you could add River West to that list.

    These stations could be a nice option for current Blue/Brown/Red line riders, especially those who have jobs in the Loop or just over the river by the Ogilvie or Union terminals. Taking some of the riders who are going downtown and getting them to take Union Pacific North seems like a good option. Then, the CTA lines would still be packed, but not quite so badly.

  • duppie

    I’d agree that The UP-N is an undervalue transit option on the Northside. But different governing bodies make it next to impossible to align needs and investments.

    BTW, the Peterson station has been postponed. No new construction start date has been set.

  • Chicagoan

    I know, that’s why I said “if”. I believe they had the funding figured out, then the Madigan/Rauner standoff happened. It sounds like it’ll happen if the state can come to terms on a budget.

  • JacobEPeters

    If they could run RER style trains at higher frequencies along UPN into the loop that would be great for rebranding the service & shifting commute patterns. My concern would be whether it would require a new station or completion of a Crossrail type of tunnel, since currently Ogilvie is crowded with large trains that occupy a large block of platform time before they are turned around.

    Then again, just having a universal fare structure across all transit in the city could cause this shift. I had a friend who lived on Ashland near Montrose, and worked in the west loop. He chose to walk to Montrose instead of the Ravenswood stop because he knew he needed a CTA monthly pass to cover the things he did outside of downtown after work & on weekends. So if he took the Brown Line to work he could view all of those additional trips as essentially free. Despite that Metra would get him to his office faster in the morning, without a transfer (albeit at less frequency).

  • Anne A

    Sorry to hear about the delay at Peterson. Seems like that could be very beneficial to neighborhoods nearby.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Is peterson the best place for a new station? The area to the southwest is a cemetery and the area to west of Ravenswood has a lot of non residential uses too. I suppose its being considered since its half way between Rogers Park and Ravenswood Stations and not particularly close to any El stations.

  • Chicagoan

    There’s definitely enough density to warrant this location, but yes, I think part of it was the fact that the station will be equal distance from Rogers Park and Ravenswood.

  • Cameron Puetz

    I believe that currently all of the Red Line stations between Belmont and Jackson can accommodate ten car trains. It seems like it should be possible to run ten car trains and just not open the last two cars until Belmont. This would add capacity to the most crowded part the run.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    UP-N riders have observed the longer than promised replacement of North Side bridges, with the construction of a brand new track needed when the original construction plan failed. Now only one side of the bridges have been replaced, and the final cost has been kept secret. Is the need for annual fare hikes and delay of Petersen station a consequence of the bloated bridge program ??

  • Elaborate about Rogers Park’s effort to block development?

  • JacobEPeters

    Harlem, Belmont, Fullerton, & Wilson will need platform extensions, but I believe that the station rebuilds have left room for expansion without major structural changes. The subway stations are tight, but when I last measured them the doors for every car would open in the non constrained portions of the platform.

    I am not certain if the train door systems would allow you to not open the last 2 sets of doors. If they did it might work headed southbound, but for northbound service you would have to clear everyone out of the last two cars at Belmont. Which I am not sure is really feasible.

  • Neil Clingerman

    For many years I took the metra from Ravenswood living near Paulina in Wilson. With fare increases from Metra I’m not sure this would work now, but at the time I was able to spend just about as much as I did on a monthly CTA pass between the ~$20 I needed a month for leisure CTA trips and the monthly fee of $60/month at the time for commutes via Metra. I believe the CTA at that point was 80/month, so most of the time It worked out quiet nicely for me.

    I do wish that ventra was implemented on Metra like Caltrain is on Clipper.

  • Neil Clingerman

    Its a bit of a walk but people in Andersonville could still use it.

  • david vartanoff

    you wrote “…just having a universal fare structure across all transit in the city could cause this shift.”
    Indeed, getting Metra to make ALL travel within CTA service areas accessible by CTA fare instruments, is a critical necessity. No one boarding the Purple Line in Evanstonat Davis Street where CTA is literally across the street from Metra should have to pay extra for a trip downtown. All of these trains are tax supported, as the http://www.grayline.20m.com/ points out, Metraowns or has rights on underused rail routes which with Ventra tagging readers on the platforms could offer greater frequency thus expanding Chicagoans ability to travel around. In the bargain, making all of Metra POP would be a major improvement/economy move.

  • what_eva

    It’s only non-residential on Peterson and a little commercial on Ravenswood, pretty much anything north is immediately residential.

  • neroden

    Spiffier elevated structures *have* caused higher property values in the past. They’re much less rattly.

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