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.”

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