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Red Line Extension

50 years after it was promised, the South Red Line Extension is slated to get a $1.973B grant

And fortunately, despite what the news release stated, the RLE is still predicted to cut the commute time from 130th to the Loop by 30 minutes.

Rendering of the east view of the new 103rd Street station. Image: CTA

This post is sponsored by the Active Transportation Alliance

Streetsblog readers will recall that prospects were already looking very good for the proposed $3.6 billion CTA Red Line Extension to increase the route by 5.6 miles from 95th to 130th streets on Chicago's Far South Side. In December the Chicago City Council approved the much-debated transit tax-increment financing district for the project, which is projected to raise $959 million for the extension. And in March, President Joe Biden’s discretionary funding budget earmarked another $350 million for the project.

But there was some more excellent news today which confirms that, half a century after it was first discussed, 'L' service for Far South Siders is almost certainly going to become a reality. The Federal Transit Administration announces this morning that the project is now in line for $1.973 billion in federal money via the "New Starts" program. If you do the math, assuming that grant comes through, it would mean the extension is almost completely funded. According to the CTA, the new federal money would be the biggest infrastructure grant the transit agency has ever garnered.

"Reversing decades of disinvestment starts with providing accessible transportation for all residents of this city," stated Mayor Brandon Johnson, who recently pledged during Bike the Drive to improve walk/bike/transit citywide. "Today’s announcement serves as an important milestone for this project as we move to enhance capillary connections to create a more connected and accessible Chicago."

“Today is a great day for the South Side of Chicago,” said embattled CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. in a statement “The Far South Side has been promised for 50 years that the Red Line would be extended to the city’s southern border, and today we can say that promise is significantly closer to being met.” 

So Carter was saying the RLE was first proposed 50 years ago in 1973? That explains the unusual new grant number of $1.973 billion.

The estimated timeline for the project. Image: CTA

According to the CTA, the transit agency can now kick off the project's “Engineering” phase of the project, including further design and engineering it needs before construction. It also IDs the federal grant cash the RLE can win after the FTA signs off on the completed engineering work. The Engineering phase is slated to run into 2024, with hopes that the feds will award the funding by the end of that year.

Mike Quigley speaks at today's press event at the future site of the RLE Community Outreach Center, 401 W. 111th St.. Johnson and Carter are in the background. Photo: CTA

"As lead Democrat on the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I’m proud to have helped bring these federal dollars back home to support the Red Line Extension project," said U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-5th) in a statement. "This project is a major step in building a more equitable transit system for our city, ensuring the benefits of public transit can be utilized by communities that have historically lacked access."

Some of the other Illinois and Chicago politicians who have supported the project also provided statements applauding the news. These included Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), U.S. Rep. Danny Davis. (D-7th), U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd), U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson (D-1st), and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th.) It's worth noting that back in 2014 Beale who opposed the idea of routing the new tracks on Halsted Street, and ultimately got his way, as you can see in the rendering below.

Ultimately the CTA decided not to run the Red Line extension down Halsted, half a mile west of the chosen route. Image: CTA

The CTA news release for the announcement credited the above lawmakers for advocating for the project, including signing a letter exhorting the U.S. Department of Transportation and the White House Office of Management and Budget to chip in generously. In addition it noted that other signers included Illinois Congressional reps Jesús "Chuy" García (D-4th), Jan Schakowsky (D-9th), Delia Ramirez (D-3rd), Sean Casten (D-6th), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-8th.)

"The CTA’s Red Line Extension Project will help to address decades of disinvestment on the Far South Side,” Andrea Reed, executive director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “I am pleased that this project is moving forward and is slated to receive federal support, and I encourage CTA to continue to ensure that this project commits to creating job and training opportunities and other quality of life improvements for residents in our community.” 

But why has the predicted time savings from 130th to the Loop dropped from 30 minutes to 20?
Rendering of the Michigan Avenue station. Image: CTA

Tracey Scott, CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority, which owns the Altgeld Gardens housing project at the south end of the new route, also praised the new route's potential to improve the economy of the areas it will serve.

The Red Line Extension will include four new stations at 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue, and 130th Street, plus a new rail yard and other rail facilities that the CTA said will also improve the rest of Red service.

The project's website states, "RLE will provide up to 30-minute time savings [emphasis added] to riders traveling from the future 130th Street station to the Loop." But oddly today's press release says, "Once the extension opens, it is expected to provide up to 20 minutes time savings [emphasis added] to riders traveling from the future 130th Station. The CTA did not immediately respond to my question about this one-third drop in estimated time saved.

The discrepancy between the project website (top) and today's press release (bottom.)

Update 9/8/23, 4:30 PM: Shortly after this piece was published, a CTA spokesperson got back to me: "The time-savings is 'up to 30 minutes.' Thanks for flagging, we’ve since corrected the release." It's great to hear that a half-hour travel time reduction is still predicted.

The project should have other benefits for Far South Side residents. The RLE Transit-Supportive Development plan will help spur 'L'-friendly investments near the four new stations (although the agency has also previously released plans to build large amounts of car parking near the stations.) The CTA estimates the RLE will being over 25,000 jobs to Cook County in the future, and the agency has made efforts to help disadvantaged business enterprises (POC- and/or woman-owned companies) get involved with construction.

View more preliminary project renderings here. Check out the website here.

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