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South Siders Share Their Thoughts on the Red Line Extension Project

6:05 PM CST on February 14, 2018

Attendees look over plans for the Red Line extension. Photo: James Porter

On February 13, a good-sized crowd of Chicago’s South Side residents gathered at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep in Roseland for a CTA open house. The subject under discussion was the extension of the Red Line past its current 95th Street terminal all the way to 130th Street. While this project has been discussed since the Richard J. Daley Era, this time around it may actually happen. In November 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced $75 million in funding for preliminary engineering for the extension, and last month the city announced the planned route for the new tracks.

The Preferred Alignment for the Red Line extension. Image: CTA
The Preferred Alignment for the Red Line extension. Image: CTA

"The CTA has been working on this since 2006," said Sonali Tandon, senior project manager in strategic planning with for the agency, at yesterday's hearing. "We conducted an analysis which was looking at all the possible alternatives for extending the Red Line. That study was finished in 2009. After that, the CTA started working on the draft for the Environmental Impact Statement.” That document was published in October 2016. "At that time we had two options that we presented to the public: the east option and west option of the Preferred Alignment. We had said that we would be coming out back to the public to announce the Select Alignment, which is what this meeting’s about.”

There has been concern from residents that the construction of new tracks might negatively impact local parks. "The East Option would have impacted two parks, Wendell Smith and Rock Park," Tandon said. "The West Option would have impacted Fernwood Parkway. The preferred alignment would only impact Fernwood Parkway. It is an inactive park; there are are no facilities over there. People could potentially be using it to play, but there is no play equipment over there. We have been working with the Chicago Park District for the past few years, in order to discuss those impacts and to identify mitigations to resolve those impacts. We have identified a replacement park so there would be parks elsewhere that would be used to mitigate the impact to Fernwood Parkway.”

Tandon added that there is not enough room in the CTA's existing 98th Street rail yard to accommodate additional service. “The existing rail yard is in the median of the [I-94 / Bishop Ford] expressway,” Tandon said. “It is severely constrained, so an extension cannot be accommodated in the same rail yard. We are proposing a new rail yard as part of the project at 120th Street. That would replace the existing yard.”

Alderman Anthony Beale at the hearing. Photo: James Porter
Alderman Anthony Beale talks with residents at the hearing. Photo: James Porter

9th Ward alderman Anthony Beale told me he considers the movement on the Red Line extension be a positive development. “When Mayor Rahm Emanuel first took office in 2011, this was the number one item on the agenda, to make sure that this promise was kept from over forty years ago,” Beale said. “I expressed to him that this is the one item. [Local aldermen] Carrie Austin and Howard Brookins [and I] met with the mayor to make sure this was a priority for the city of Chicago... We’re really excited about how we’re moving forward with this."

However, local residents seem to have more mixed feelings about the project. “I think it’s a great thing, the Red Line being extended to the Far South Side," said Deloris Lucas, the leader of the bike group We Keep You Rollin', who lives in the Golden Gate community. "It should have been incorporated a long, long time ago so that everyone would feel like we were the same type of citizen or resident of Chicago... Right now, the bus ride from 130th to 95th takes almost thirty minutes. That’s ridiculous. Transit should be much faster.”

Deloris Lucas, Jemes Marshall Jr., and Fatimah Al-Nurridin. Photo: James Porter
Attendees Deloris Lucas, James Marshall Jr., and Fatimah Al-Nurridin. Photo: James Porter

Local resident Elaina McLauren would be glad to see the Far South Side get better transit access, but she's concerned about additional train noise. “I think the train should pass 95th street," she said. "But the way that it’s being extended is what I have a problem with. It’s being extended down the freight train line. I live near the freight train line – half a block away. When I chose to move to the Far South Side, it was because the Dan Ryan train was supposed to go down the expressway to 130th street... That was a good route! It didn’t bother anybody’s property. Now, it’s going to bother my sleep!”

“The freight train and that CTA train are going to be running at the same time," McLauren added. "They thought it through, but they did not ask the neighborhood. When CTA comes through, the value of my house [will go] down. Who wants to live near a train?” She also expressed concern that the construction of the new tracks would damage her home's foundation.

Her companion Tommy McLauren questioned the location of the 130th Street station, which will serve the Altgeld Gardens housing project, but not much else. “When you get out there, there’s nothing out there.”

South Sider Ronald Jackson questioned Emanuel's motives in pushing for the Red Line extension at this point in the election cycle. "Why now, all of a sudden?" he asked. This is about an election. This is not about us. And if this project does get off the ground, what’s the percentage of minorities having contracts?”

Jackson argued that since few Chicago pubic schools teach skills like carpentry, drafting, and welding nowadays, young people on the Far South Side won't be able to compete for jobs building the extension. "How is this gonna benefit us? This is going to benefit Rahm’s people, and some of these – I hate to say – Uncle Tom aldermen who sit up here talking about they’re for us."

Work on the Red Line wouldn't begin until 2022, and service wouldn't launch until 2026 at the earliest. That's if -- and this is a big if -- Chicago can secure funding for the $2.3 billion project. Things aren't looking good though, because Donald Trump's recently released infrastructure plan calls for cutting federal funding for transit. Some local transportation experts and advocates have proposed converting the Metra Electric District commuter line to rapid transit service as a quicker, cheaper alternative to building the Red Line Extension.

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