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What is the Federal Transit Agency doing for CTA’s application for more RLE money?

Rendering of the Red Line Extension’s 103rd Street Station proposal.

Monday I wrote about the Chicago Transportation Authority hosting a meeting tomorrow morning to introduce disadvantaged business enterprises and small businesses to the three CTA-identified bidders for the Far South Side's Red Line Extension Project as potential subcontractors. After I asked a colleague to review the article before publication, he had some interesting questions.

As Streetsblog has previously reported, the $3.6 billion RLE project has already made some significant progress with funding. In December the City Council approved the somewhat umpopular transit tax-increment financing district for the four-station, five-mile-long rail extension project. The TIF is projected to raise $959 million. In March, President Biden’s 2024 discretionary budget called for another $350 million. And on March 12, the CTA announced the three bidders: FH Paschen, Ragnar Benson, Milhouse and BOWA Joint Venture; Kiewit Infrastructure; and Walsh VINCI Transit Community Partners. 

But my colleagued wanted to know how the CTA was planning to get the remaining $2.3 billion for the RLE that made the agency confident enough to start looking for contractors. "What is the next step?" he asked. "What is the Federal Transit Administration [which funds and oversees public transportation projects nationwide] doing for CTA’s application for more money?"

I couldn't answer that question immediately, so I hit up the CTA Media folks. Here's an approximation of our email exchange.

John Greenfield: Can you tell me, what is the next step for making the Red Line Extension something that is definitely going to happen?  

CTA: As we move forward on the RLE project, we are working to pursue the necessary funding that will allow us to start planning the construction phase.

JG: The CTA has applied to the Federal Transit Administration for significant funding, correct? 

CTA: CTA is pursuing a federal grant through the Federal Capital Investment Grants (CIG) New Starts program. In March the Federal Transit Administration assigned the RLE project an overall New Starts project rating of Medium-High and recommended that Congress appropriate $350 million in FY2024 CIG funding for RLE. We are anticipating entry into the engineering phase (the next milestone) in June/July of this year. After successfully advancing through the CIG program, CTA anticipates receiving a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) from FTA in 2024. An FFGA commits the federal financial funding.

JG: How much are you asking for?

CTA: CTA is pursuing close to $2.4 Billion ($2.37 Billion) in Federal New Starts funding, which is 60 percent of  total project costs. We have also applied for $100 million of additional [Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality] funding.

JG: What is the FTA currently doing with that application? 

FTA is currently assessing the project’s readiness to approve the project into the next phase of the CIG Program – Entry into Engineering. Once CTA gets approved to enter Engineering, additional work will be needed to ultimately get FFGA next year.

Well there you it have it. It sounds like a project Far South Siders have been asking for since the Nixon era is well on its way to full funding.

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