Thanks Obama: Feds Award $1.1 Billion for Red and Purple Line Modernization

CTA president Dorval Carter signs a giant funding agreement at this morning's event. Photo: CTA
CTA president Dorval Carter signs a giant funding agreement at this morning's event. Photo: CTA

It came as no surprise, but it was still a relief, when officials announced today that the $1.1 billion federal grant for the CTA’s Red and Purple Modernization project has been approved, a mere 11 days before an anti-transit Republican administration takes over Washington.

The $2.1 billion first phase RPM project will rebuild the Red and Purple Line tracks from Lawrence to Howard, upgrade signals, reconstruct four station and create a flyover just north of the Belmont stop to eliminate conflicts between Red, Purple, and, Brown Line trains. The CTA says the latter feature will allow them to run 15 more trains an hour between Belmont and Fullerton during rush periods, which will be crucial for addressing overcrowding on the at-capacity Red Line as the North Side’s population grows, as well as facilitating travel along the entire line.

On November 30, the deadline for applying for the federal Core Capacity grant, Chicago’s City Council unanimously approved a new tax-increment financing district near the project area. The TIF is projected to generate $622 million to pay back a federal loan that, along with $468 the transit agency plans to borrow, will be used for the matching funds that are required for the grant. Unlike traditional TIFs, the new district is designed to not divert any funding from the Chicago Public Schools. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Transit Authority president Dorval Carter, U.S. senator Dick Durbin, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Congressman  Mike Quigley and Federal Transit Administration acting administrator Carolyn Flowers heralded the $1.1 billion funding agreement this morning at the Argyle Red Line station. Argyle, along with the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stops, will be modernized and made wheelchair accessible as part of the RPM project.

“This type of investment in transit is an investment in Chicago’s residents and neighborhoods, connecting them to jobs, education and more,” said Emanuel in a statement.

The FTA's Flowers tours the Argyle platform with Emanuel. Photo: Mayor's Office
The FTA’s Flowers tours the Argyle platform with Emanuel. Photo: Mayor’s Office

“This is a critical infrastructure project that will ensure CTA riders and people all over Chicago can continue to get to jobs, education, and all the great things this city has to offer,” stated the FTA’s Flowers.

The RPM project is part of a series of “Red Ahead” projects to improve the city’s busiest ‘L’ line. In 2013, the CTA completed a $425 million rehab of the south Red Line from Cermak to 95th. Last November the agency announced $75 million in funding for the $2.3 billion Red Line Extension project to continue rail service to 130th Street from 95th Street on Chicago’s Far South Side. And a $280 million reconstruction the 95th Street station and a $203 million rehab of the Wilson stop are currently underway.

Design and engineering work on RPM is expected to start in 2017, and the CTA expects construction to begin in late 2018. The work is estimated to take four to five years to complete.

Surely not everyone is going to be happy that the RPM project is funded. Many Central Lakeview residents are upset about the planned demolition of some 16 properties to make room for the flyover. It won’t be surprising if lawsuits are filed in an effort to stop the project.

However, the Active Transportation Alliance applauded the news. “We’re excited the CTA secured federal funding for the much needed Red and Purple Modernization project,” said governmental relations director Kyle Whitehead via email. “Without more investment, crowding on North Side trains is only going to get worse and some people may choose to drive if they begin to view it as more convenient. RPM relieves congestion in the biggest choke point in our transit system while ensuring public transit will remain an affordable, fast and convenient option.”

“This federal grant was possible because the mayor and CTA worked with City Council to raise the required local match, and our strong, pro-transit congressional delegation helped secure the funds,” Whitehead added. “We need to dedicate more local revenue to public transit in order to continue to improve and expand the system.”

  • Mars_Bound_Soon

    I am one of those Lakeview residents who thinks the Flyover is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. The Flyover is simply not needed. I have seen “pie in the sky” projections of increased Red Line rider-ship when in fact it has peaked and is beginning to decline. It will be very interesting to see the final CTA Red Line rider-ship numbers for 2016.

    I have read people writing about all the new jobs downtown driving increased CTA Red Line riders. Take a good look at all the newly completed residential high rises downtown and many more on the way. They are being built to house people working in those jobs who would prefer to walk to work and live in an urban environment.

    In an age where more people working from home on the internet, Uber, and a shrinking Chicago population we will be left with this gigantic dinosaur when the money is definitely needed elsewhere. Property taxes are skyrocketing just to cover unfunded pension debt.

    “Unlike traditional TIFs, the new district is designed to not divert any funding from the Chicago Public Schools.” Great, but property taxpayers in the TIF will have to pony up more money just to cover increased city services operating costs to replace money bled out by the TIF. Higher and higher property taxes means more people heading for the exit. This is NOT a way to grow Chicago.

    Why are Rham and his bureaucratic friends promoting this grotesque waste of taxpayers’ money? Simple, MONEY to dole out to their connected friends, it’s called the Chicago Way.

    I am hoping for an executive action by President Trump to scuttle this nonsense. If not, 10 years from now you will see if it was worth the gigantic cost. By then I will gone from Chicago and happily living on Mars. :)

  • Jeremy

    1. Chicago isn’t losing population, population growth might be around 0%, but the area around the north end of the red line is gaining population.

    2. More people working at home on the internet? Don’t believe all the spam sent to your inbox. If so many people are working from home, why are so many office buildings being built downtown?

  • what_eva

    There are delays due to Clark Junction *today*. There are overcrowded trains because CTA can not run anymore *today*. pie-in-the-sky projections of the future aren’t needed, the additional capacity is needed right now.

    Don’t fall for flyover opponents (which sadly includes Joravsky in his all-TIFs-are-bad role) who do dumb things like time delays at the Belmont station. Not all delays are right at the junction. Just about every time I ride the Brown or Purple Lines in afternoon rush, there’s a delay somewhere, sometimes as far back as Merchandise Mart. Red Line trains have less frequent delays IME, but the crush level is really bad.

    You do not understand TIFs. Taxpayers in the TIF do *not* pay higher taxes by themselves. What happens is that tax rates across the entire taxing body (be it the city, the county, the park district, MWRDGC, etc) go up.

    In a TIF, for all taxing bodies, your assessed value is frozen. ie, if you own a condo in Edgewater right now that’s worth $250k today, that value is frozen. If that value rises to $300k in a few years, the taxes on $250k of that value keep going to the taxing bodies, the taxes on $50k in incremental value go to the TIF. You pay no additional taxes simply by being in the TIF. What can be bad about TIFs (and *is* bad with their overuse across the city, *especially* the Loop which is basically a slush fund for the mayor) is that without revenues going up from increased valuation, various taxing bodies need to increase tax rates, but those increases cover the entire body as a whole, not the TIF. ie, it’s not people in the TIF that pay higher taxes due to the TIF, it’s all of us.

    Note that this transit TIF is slightly different in that CPS is excluded from “losing out” on the incremental value.

  • what_eva

    I’ve been noticing and experiencing a swing against telecommuting in the last few years. All the collaboration tools in the world can’t replace the natural collaboration of sitting next to your colleagues. There is a big move in software development especially toward co-location.

  • JeffParkNIMBY

    Maybe if it was a wall, he’d be on board. That’s not a waste of money, at all.

  • Earl Weiss

    Obama gets Chicago $1.1 Billion of the $2.1 Billion needed for the CTA Red Line 100 year improvement project. The other Billion coming from a TIF on all properties within a half mile of the line. This line serves 16 Million riders a year. $2.1 Billion / 16 Million riders comes to $131.25 divide by the 100 years and that is $1.31 per ride. (Not counting debt service) Where is the part about the users paying for what they get?

  • Mars_Bound_Soon

    An estimated $1.6 billion (most government projects go over budget) to save a few minutes in the evening?! I find it very hard to believe that there are back-ups all the way down from the junction to the Merch Mart. Do you realize how many trains would have to be standing on that 4.2 mile stretch of track? By my calculation at least two dozen. If there is proof that trains are being backed up from the junction to the Merch Mart every day I will get on board with the Fly Over, but your incidental observation just is not enough.

    Your statement “Not all delays are right at the junction. Just about every time I ride the Brown or Purple Lines in afternoon rush, there’s a delay somewhere, sometimes as far back as Merchandise Mart.”

    does NOT imply that the junction is the problem, it actually points to something else. The delays at the Merch Mart are probably caused by something other than the junction. Delay due to handicap passenger boarding or alighting at stations north of there, equipment problems, or slow traffic on the S curve. It is not a “dumb idea” to monitor traffic thru the junction if that is the purported problem. After I read the Reader article I went to the Belmont station at evening rush hour and did not see trains lined up all the way down as far as the eye can see. I saw both Red, Brown, and Purple trains pass thru orderly with an occasional 1 minute wait for clearance at the junction. I have yet to see a traffic study done at the Belmont station other than Joravsky’s. Perhaps one was done and not released because it does not support the Fly Over.

    You are correct on one thing. I don’t understand TIFs that well, I think the politicians deliberately make it difficult to understand. But before I take you word I am going to check with some one who knows what is going on.

    It really doesn’t matter now unless Trump decides to do something, I sent him an email. (Yeah, like he’s going to read my email!) If I am alive 10 years from now I will try to check up on the Fly Over, if I can get the World-Wide-Web on Mars.

    CALCULATION for TRAINS on 4.2 Miles of Track
    (4.2 miles from Belmont to Merch Mart estimated using Google Earth)

    CTA Car Length = 48 feet, add 4ft for coupling connection = 52 ft

    52 feet * 8 cars = 416 feet

    double that for safe distance between trains = 832 ft.

    4.2 miles of track from Merch Mart to Belmont = (4.2)(5280 ft per mile) = 22,176 ft.

    22175 / 832 = 26.65 trains

  • Mars_Bound_Soon

    I knew when I commented on this blog 99% of it’s readers would be against my position – but snarky comments only show your ignorance.

  • Chicagoan

    Chicago’s population isn’t shrinking, the city has gained around 25,000 people since 2010, so growth is flat. The area around this project is adding population and transit ridership is going up as well. This is an exciting investment for Edgewater & Uptown as well as everyone who has a commute that involves the Clark Junction.

  • JeffParkNIMBY

    Please provide actual sources for your facts listed. Otherwise it’s just speculation on your part anyway.

  • Mars_Bound_Soon

    I tried posting my earlier comment twice with my all my links to sources and the comments do not show up ??? Maybe because it has links it is being thrown away or (more sinister) the blog moderator can not handle the truth

  • Chicagoan

    My daily commute includes the Brown & Red Lines, as well as the Merchandise Mart stop and you’re on the money, sir.

    I’d also note that with all the TOD projects coming online along the Red Line (Argyle & Wilson come to mind.), this investment is needed to meet future demand. By the time this project is complete, I’ll be living by the Jarvis stop because the crush level will be so intense. I’m excited for this and I applaud our officials for a job well done.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    No, we haven’t been deleting your comments. I’m not sure what the issue is; please try reposting. Everybody, let’s keep the conversation civil. Thanks.

  • bolwerk

    Besides paying fares, presumably this a paltry return on the taxes those users pay.

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