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There’s movement on south Red Line extension, but service launch pushed back 3 years

6:30 PM CST on December 22, 2020

Rendering of the upcoming 103rd Street station.

Ever since the Nixon era, Far South Siders have been asking for the Red Line, which currently stops at 95th Street, to be extended south to the city limits. They got some good news yesterday, as the CTA passed a milestone for winning roughly $1 billion in federal funding needed for the $2.3 billion project. But in a somewhat frustrating development, the earliest potential start date for train service on the route, originally slated for 2026, has been postponed until 2029.

As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times' Stefano Esposito, the CTA announced on Monday that the Federal Transit Administration has granted preliminary approval for the 5.6-mile addition, which will go as far south as 130th Street, serving the Altgeld Gardens housing project. However, the transit agency also shared the bad news of the three-year service launch delay, explaining that the 2026 start date was a "preliminary" estimate based on "limited information." The CTA needs to finalize the project's environmental impact statement and create preliminary engineering documents within the next two years.

“While this year has brought forth a tremendous amount of uncertainty, one thing that remains certain is CTA’s unwavering commitment to advancing the Red Line Extension project,” said CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. in a statement. “A project of this magnitude requires careful planning and design, which I’m proud to say has been done and will continue every step of the way as we work to advance this transformational project that will benefit the Far South Side and the entire city of Chicago.”

Of course, even the 2029 start date assumes that the feds will come through with the $1 billion grant. But that possibility became a lot more likely with the election of Joe Biden, a noted rail fan. His appointment of former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who advocated for the extension of the South Shore Line commuter railroad into that city's downtown, and rented a condo next door to the the Red Line's Monroe station when he lived in Chicago in the late 2000s, probably won't hurt either.

The route and four new stations for the Red Lien extension.
The route and four new stations for the Red Lien extension.
"Far South Side residents have been promised this project for decades so it’s a shame they’ll have to wait at least another 9 years," commented Active Transportation Alliance spokesperson Kyle Whitehead. "But the initial federal approval is encouraging and CTA and President Carter are clearly making it a priority. Our elected officials will need to do their part to identify local matching funds that could help secure the federal grant."
Oboi Reed, head of the mobility justice nonprofit Equiticity, heralded the funding milestone. "We are happy to see the Red Line extension move a step closer to becoming reality for Chicago," he said. "Transportation is a critically important tool in our toolkit to improve life outcomes for Black and Brown people in our city. The Red Line extension, as planned, will bring increased transit options to neighborhoods on the far South side of Chicago which experience some of the most egregious of transportation inequities in our city. The time is now for the city of Chicago to operationalize its commitment to racial equity and mobility justice."

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