Route Announced for $2.3 Billion Red Line Extension, But How Will We Fund It?

CTA chairman Terry Peterson, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CTA chief Dorval Carter, and local politicians at this morning's announcement. Photo: CTA
CTA chairman Terry Peterson, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CTA chief Dorval Carter, and local politicians at this morning's announcement. Photo: CTA

This morning the city announced the intended route for the long-awaited south Red Line extension, which would lengthen the backbone of the ‘L’ system by another 5.3 miles, from the existing 95th Street terminal to 130th Street. However, questions remain about where the funding for the $2.3 billion project will come for, and whether it might make sense to pursue lower-cost alternatives.

The proposed extension would include four new stations near 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue and 130th Street. Each of the new stations would include bus facilities and car parking. Following technical analysis and a public input process, the CTA has chosen a route that would:

  • Begin the extension at 95th Street and run along the west side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks from I-57 south to about 109th Street;
  • Cross the UPR tracks and run along the east side of the tracks until crossing the Metra Electric tracks near 119th Street; and
  • Continue south to 130th Street.

The CTA also considered an alternative that would have involved elevated tracks on Halsted Street. However, this proposal faced opposition from residents and 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, who argued that the tracks would hurt businesses on Halsted.

“Today we are taking a major step towards extending the Red Line to 130th Street and delivering the jobs and economic opportunities that go with it,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at this morning’s announcement at Block Park at 103rd Street and Harvard Avenue, near the proposed 103rd Street stop. “By extending the Red Line south we are strengthening Chicagoans’ connections to each other, to opportunity and to the world.”

Building the line will require purchasing some 150 properties. If any owners refuse to sell, the city could likely force their hands via the eminent domain process, but that could delay the project’s timeline. The train route also passes by several large unoccupied land parcels, which the city notes could become appealing to developers once the train stations open.

Rendering of the future 103rd Street station. Image: CTA
Rendering of the future 103rd Street station. Image: CTA

The CTA will produce a final Environmental Impact Study that will include preliminary engineering work and an analysis impacts of the proposed alignment. This engineering work is required before CTA can apply for more than $1 billion in federal funds for the project.  The transit agency expects to apply to the Federal Transit Administration for entry into the project development phase of this project, a necessary step to pursue federal funding for the project under the competitive federal New Starts grant program.

However, the Donald Trump administration has previously announced its intention of eliminating the New Starts program, and all other federal funding for transit. Meanwhile, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois face major budget problems.

In late 2016, City Council approved a special transit tax-increment financing district along the project area for the 2.1 billion first phase of the Red and Purple Modernization project, which will rehab stations and track infrastructure between Belmont Avenue and Howard Street. That TIF, which will capture value from property tax revenue increases associated with the improved transit access, is projected to raise $622 million, which allowed Chicago to leverage a $1.1 billion federal grant, awarded shortly before Barack Obama left office a year ago.

The Metra Electric District route (blue) serves much of the same territory as the proposed Red Line extension (yellow). Implementing rapid service on the MED would be a much cheaper way to improve service to the Far South Side.
The Metra Electric District route (blue) serves much of the same territory as the proposed Red Line extension (yellow). Implementing rapid service on the MED would be a much cheaper way to improve service to the Far South Side.

However, partly due to the much lower population density and lower property values of the Red Line extension project area, a similar approach probably wouldn’t work at this location. The Metropolitan Planning Council has estimated that, at best, an RLE transit TIF would raise only $200 million over the next 35 years.

The CTA previously considered bus rapid transit as a much cheaper way to improve access for the communities along the Red Line extension route. However, Far South Siders have noted that they’ve been waiting for ‘L’ access since the extension was first proposed during the Richard J. Daley Era, and that they deserve high-quality rapid transit train service just as much as their North Side counterparts.

Another alternative for providing that service at a fraction of the $2.3 billion would be to convert the Metra Electric District line, which parallels the RLE route, to rapid transit frequency, with the fare system integrated with the CTA. The Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric, a collaboration between transportation organizations and South Side community groups, as well as citizen advocate Mike Payne, are pushing for this approach.

However this would require cooperation from CTA and Metra, which have a generally competitive relationship. Regional planning organizations such as the Regional Transit Authority and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning have favored the Red Line extension plan over converting the MED to rapid transit. Apparently they believe that it will be easier to prize a federal grant out of the Trump administration than to get CTA and Metra to play nice.

Correction 1/27/18: This article previously misstated the MPC projection for a south Red Line transit TIF. I apologize for the error.

  • Chicagoan

    If we can’t make it happen by 2020, perhaps we’ll have better luck with President Booker, Harris, or Warren.

  • planetshwoop

    What is the estimated amount of time to travel from 130th to say, Jackson?

  • Tooscrapps

    Sorry, I’m still not buying the “if you build it, developers will come”. There are still hundreds of developable parcels (empty or underutilized) around the existing lines (W Blue, entire Green, Pink, and Orange).

    We’re just going to pump billions into this project without even piloting beefing up the existing Metra lines for 2-3 years? Are our transit agencies getting dumber?

  • Kevin M

    “Apparently they believe that it will be easier to prize a federal grant
    out of the Trump administration than get CTA and Metra to play nice.”

    Very well put, John. The RTA and CMAP are wasting a lot of public time and dime losing that bet. Inefficient use of precious resources all around.

  • Chicagoan

    CTA and Metra compete, they don’t appear close to deciding to work together, so the Red Line extension is the best, most realistic hope of providing high-quality service to the Far South Side.

  • Jeremy

    Beale thinks L tracks on Halsted will hurt businesses on Halsted? Like they hurt the businesses on Sheffield, Milwaukee, and the Loop?

    I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he means construction.

  • Tooscrapps

    The tracks don’t run above any of those streets and yes, Wabash, Lake, Van Buren, and Wells storefronts are less attractive for tenants.

  • Jeremy

    After reading his quotes from the linked article from 2014, i reaffirm my initial judgement that he is a fool.

    He is also a supporter of the anti-“petextrian” bill. Is it too much to hope he won’t be re-elected?

  • Jeremy

    I guess you are right, the tracks run adjacent to the streets. I would prefer to see actual $/sq ft numbers, instead of just taking “less attractive” at face value.

  • Courtney

    To think, we could implement BRT on the South Side much faster AND cheaper! Everyone wins!

  • Chicagoan

    Alderman Austin, Alderman Beale, and Alderman Brookins all support the extension, as do their constituents.

  • Chicagoan

    Most of the few remaining small businesses in the Loop are under the L tracks on Lake, Wabash, Van Buren, and Wells.

  • Jacob Wilson

    There are so many MUCH more densely populated areas on the south and west sides that deserve rapid transit more than the far, far, far south(west) side.

    This is and has always been purely political.

  • Courtney

    Hyde Park for example. I’d love to see a BRT line there.
    Even converting one North and Southbound lane on LSD for the 6 and J14 would be a start.

  • Courtney

    Just because they compete doesn’t mean it HAS to be that way just like this Red Line extension doesn’t have to be built. We can totally scrap the plans and come up with a more cost-efficient plan.

  • Tooscrapps

    “We can’t cooperate and share power, so let’s just waste Federal money.”

    And I don’t mean extending quality transit in that area is a waste, I just think they should be looking at a more cost effective way of doing it. The Federal funding system is broken and so is the RTA. Not that that is anything new.

  • Chicagoan

    Again…pragmatism. It won’t change and South Siders are tired of sitting and waiting for rapid transit, which has been discussed for almost 50 years.

    South Siders are also tired of people explaining to them what they do and don’t deserve.

  • Chicagoan

    Who says it’s a waste of money? Nothing’s built. These neighborhoods, which I’d wager nobody in this comment section has visited, are pleading for rapid transit service.

  • Chicagoan

    Perhaps that belief says something about the state of the CTA/Metra relationship. It’s rather easy to sit and say ‘CTA and Metra need to come together.’, but they won’t anytime soon. South Siders are ready to move forwards with a plan that’s believed to be tangible.

  • Courtney

    FWIW I never said South Siders don’t deserve quality mass transit. =)
    I’d like to think every tax payer (no matter where you live in the city) would want their funds to be used wisely and IMO this is not a wise use of funds.

  • Courtney

    I’ve actually been to Roseland and Altgeld Gardens. I couldn’t envision L service there but I could see BRT. I wasn’t aware of the flooding mentioned in an older Streetsblog article but I’m not sure spending billions on a Red Line extension is the answer.

  • Tooscrapps

    Lots of neighborhoods are pleading for rapid transit service. Ridership numbers/number of people served, costs, and duplicate services are all important parts of the equation.

    I’m not sold on the the first and the second and third could potentially be solved by Metra/CTA coordination.

  • Chicagoan

    You’re rallying against rapid transit service that people in Altgeld Gardens and Roseland would do anything to receive. If you ask a South Sider what they think of the proposed extension, they’ll say “We need it yesterday.” I apologize if I seem angry, but a lot of South Siders feel as if people from other parts of the city who’ve never visited their neighborhoods are telling them what they do and don’t deserve and it’s infuriating.

    To us, and I speak as an Uptown resident who’s lived on the South Side for most of my life, any plans regarding Metra are fantasy and we’re so sick and tired of being jerked around.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Lower cost alternative of improving service on the ME would also benefit some of these communities.

  • Courtney

    I appreciate you speaking for the vast majority of South Siders. /end sarcasm

    In all seriousness I totally understand your passion. I want everyone in this city to have access to quality transit. It’s a big reason why I keep up to date with Streetsblog, reach out to folks who make these important decisions, and attend transportation-related meetings as my schedule allows. I consider myself lucky that I was able to move to a neighborhood with good transit access and I look forward to the day when all Chicagoans are well-served by quality mass transit.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yeah, a good rule of thumb is if you want to get lunch from a interesting mom-and-pop restaurant, look under the ‘L’ tracks on Wabash, Van Buren, Franklin, and Lake Street — those are the just about only parts of the Loop with affordable storefront rents. On the other hand, I suppose that supports the argument that elevated tracks reduce the value of the property directly below them.

  • Chicagoan

    I never said I speak for all South Siders, though I don’t regret trying to speak on behalf of all Far South Siders, because I feel as if we’re so far down there nobody can hear us.

    The South Side is too big, people in Bronzeville don’t give a damn what happens in Roseland.

  • They would probably also support an improvement of the Metra Electric District, which could happen immediately because of the far lower cost. But that option was never presented to the constituents because the mayor doesn’t support it.

  • Don’t forget that part of this $2.3 billion package includes parking garages!
    https://chi.streetsblog.org/2016/11/02/cta-intends-to-spend-millions-on-building-parking-garages-for-red-line-extension/

  • Chicagoan

    Now that part, I fully agree, is damn stupid.

  • Tooscrapps

    That’d be a good compliment piece to your pedway one: the best “under the tracks” establishments.

  • Tooscrapps

    The fact that they feel parking garages are needed to attract ridership is problematic for sure.

  • Chicagoan

    I’m partial to Pierogi Heaven.

  • CTA ran the numbers on travel times in their 2009* report:
    http://www.transitchicago.com/assets/1/planning/Red_Line_Extension_Locally_Preferred_Alternative_Report.pdf

    Savings of 20 minutes from 130th to Jackson Boulevard.

    So, 9 years later they’ve chosen a route and the mayor is calling this “a major step forward”. Talk to me when you’ve raised a down payment for a federal match, and when you’ve gotten a U.S. DOT to match it.

  • Tooscrapps

    Cafecito gets my vote. Though maybe it’s cheating because it’s their second location.

  • Cameron Puetz

    No one is saying that Altgeld Gardens doesn’t deserve transit. We’re saying it’s a poor use of funds to build duplicate CTA infrastructure because Metra is failing to use it’s existing infrastructure to provide service. Between the RI and the ME, Roseland is rich in transit infrastructure, what it lacks is transit service. All over the city Metra is stuck in the past and squandering it’s assets. Everyone wants to see scarce transit funds spent wisely to provide the best service to the most people possible, and in many places that means reforming Metra to more fully use the infrastructure that already exists.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yeah, Pierogi Heaven rocks: http://www.pierogiheaven.com/

    A few more of my favorite old-school under-‘L’ establishments,
    heading clockwise from Lake/Franklin:
    Monk’s Pub: http://www.monkspubchicago.com/
    Ronny’s Steak Palace: http://www.ronnyssteakhouse.com/menu/
    Oasis Cafe (located inside Wabash Jewelers): https://www.theinfatuation.com/chicago/reviews/oasis-cafe
    Miller’s Pub: http://millerspub.com/
    The Exchequer: https://exchequerpub.com/
    Sky Ride Cocktail Lounge (bonus points for the ‘L’-themed named): https://www.timeout.com/chicago/bars/sky-ride-cocktail-lounge
    Cal’s Liquors (R.I.P.)

  • ardecila

    The Loop (and Fulton Market, now) aren’t great examples because a rising tide lifts all boats. Of course Wabash isn’t gonna be a sh*thole with glamorous, glittering Michigan Avenue one block away. Rents will be slightly lower because of the darkness and noise, but still relatively high overall.

    The only L structures over streets outside of the Loop are Lake on the West Side and E. 63rd in Woodlawn, and neither of those is exactly thriving.

  • Buddha_Dharma

    So you’re saying that park-and-ride is a bad idea that people should instead drive downtown? Wouldn’t it be better form the to drop their car and then take the train?! I guess I’m not seeing the logic of forcing people to drive downtown instead of taking the train by eliminating the park and ride program. If you want less cars downtown, then you should for this program, not against it.

  • Buddha_Dharma

    That’s why it SHOULD be built… to spur grow in an area of decline and start to grow the city again. It is thinking like yours that has led to a million people fleeing the city – especially in underdeveloped areas such as this.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I think you can extend that “don’t give a damn” philosophy to North Siders by and large, as well.

  • CIAC

    Why is that problematic? You understand that the south side is very different from the north side, right? It is not nearly as dense. You can’t expect enough ridership within walking distance of these stations. The question is whether people drive a few miles to the station or whether they drive perhaps an average of two or three dozen miles to the suburbs or to the north side.

  • CIAC

    Exactly what I was going to say. In a sense, the less attractive nature of those storefronts actually makes the loop more interesting.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I miss the original more primitive Oasis, bringing people there for the first time was a great experience

  • Justin

    It depends what kind of neighborhoods you are trying to foster. If you would like to see those neighborhoods densify into thriving, pedestrian-friendly destinations, then you don’t want to waste all the land around the station on parking lots. Any given neighborhood is a zero sum game when it comes to public space: the better it accommodates cars, the worse it is for pedestrians, and vice versa. Parking lots mean curb cuts to the sidewalk where pedestrians are at greater risk of injury, it means that pedestrians have to walk farther to get anywhere appealing because they have to walk past so many parking spaces just to get there, it means crossing the streets takes longer because there’s more traffic, it means bleak unappealing concrete streetscapes that discourage productive law-abiding people from dwelling in the area, and without the eyes of law-abiding people watching out, antisocial people will take to the area.

  • Justin

    I support transit but as long as it costs as much as it does, it is simply unsustainable. There is no way that this extension could ever come close to paying back $2.3B. Most of the riders at 95th street are already people who have travelled some way just to get there, not people from the local neighborhood. All this extension will do is allow people to commute to 130th street rather than 95th street. Whatever ridership the 130th street station will see, it will come almost completely at the expense of reduced ridership at 95th street, meaning few net new riders and little new fare revenue. It will hardly attract any new riders at the new stations. There simply arent many people living past 95th up to 130th that regularly need to take the train.

    We need to enact new policies at the federal and state levels to drastically reduce the costs of developing public transportation infrastructure. According to academic studies, in the US we are paying multiple times what they are paying even in similarly wealthy European countries like Germany to develop things like highways, bridges, and train lines. If we could develop public transportation infrastructure at sustainable, financially feasible costs, it could be a revolution for Chicago and the rest of America. Imagine a nationwide sprint of public transportation development as US cities build to catch up to the public transportation standards upheld by the best cities in Europe and Asia.

  • southsidecyclist

    There is a spirited discussion going on here. But your just flat wrong about people past 95th needing to take the train.. The problem with Chicago rapid transit is the hub and spoke model. Its just so 1950’s. It supports the segregated nature of this city. Far south side people need transit to go everywhere. Metra has been trying to kill the Blue Island line for years. Residents dont use it because ME has poor value. No transfers to anything. Far south siders need jobs. Jobs are everywhere not just downtown. For $2.3B we could have the MME, Extend the green line back to the ME and over to MIdway. Connect Green line to the Red line instead of crossing over it. Thereby really taking advantage of our existing transit system. Chicago needs a circle route so you don’t have to go downtown first to get to the rest of the city. Actually from the public meetings surrounding ME service cuts it sounded like Metra would be willing to talk about CTA level service on the ME. I think the problem is the CTA. Who is in control of the CTA????

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