PI Original Matthew Blake Tuesday April 3rd, 2012, 4:58pm

Red Line Extension Left Off Emanuel’s Infrastructure Plans

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Building a New Chicago” speech last Thursday outlined $7.2 billion in infrastructure improvements he wants the city to tackle over the next four years. One project was conspicuous in its absence – extending the Chicago Transit Authority Red Line, from 95th Street to the end of the city at 130th Street.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Building a New Chicago” speech last Thursday outlined $7.2 billion in infrastructure improvements he wants the city to tackle over the next four years. One project was conspicuous in its absence – extending the Chicago Transit Authority Red Line, from 95th Street to the end of the city at 130th Street.

Since the 1960s, city planners have discussed extending the Red Line to connect the predominantly African-American and economically marginalized far South Side Chicago neighborhoods with the rest of the city’s economy. As a candidate for mayor, Emanuel said that expansion of the Red Line would be his first transportation priority.

But Emanuel spokesman Tom Alexander confirmed the Red Line extension was not part of Building a New Chicago. Alexander said the mayor only included projects where a funding source was identified.

This is arguably a fuzzy distinction. The city can identify a possible funding source for any project. But that’s not the same as said source agreeing to pay for the project.

For example, Emanuel prominently included another runway for O’Hare International Airport in his infrastructure speech. But the funding source is private airline companies, who have not agreed to pay the money.

Alexander referred subsequent questions to the Chicago Transit Authority.

Chicago Transit Authority spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said that CTA continues to see the Red Line extension as a longer-term project. Hosinki added that the city and CTA “continues to explore multiple funding avenues to make these projects a reality.”

Advocates for extending the Red Line were discouraged by Emanuel’s infrastructure speech.

“We are becoming increasingly concerned about the mayor and CTA not properly communicating about their public investment strategies,” says John Paul Jones, an organizer at the Developing Communities Project, a faith-based group in the Roseland neighborhood.

Jones, though, holds out hope that the Infrastructure Trust Emanuel introduced at last month’s City Council meeting could mean private investors committing to the Red Line extension. Jones said that his group is scheduled to meet with the mayor’s office later this week.

However, Steve Schlickman, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center and former head of the Regional Transit Authority, is skeptical that the emerging trend of privatizing public infrastructure projects can work with the Red Line extension.

Schlickman says that he is not clear on how the Infrastructure Trust will exactly work. But he points out that a Red Line extension is probably unattractive to private investors. “Projects like that are very expensive upfront,” Schlickman says – reported estimates put the extension at $1.4 billion. “And there is no expectation that a Red Line transit line will have surplus operations revenue.”

Federal money would likely pay for much of a possible Red Line extension: the CTA’s Hosinski cited the federal New Starts program as a possible funding source.

But there must be matching local money for the federal government to consider the project – at least 20 percent of the project must be locally funded, and often that figure is higher, according to Schlickman. And – as noted by the mayor’s office – the city and CTA have not identified this local funding.

The mayor’s office has further constrained itself, Schlickman notes, through a commitment to no new taxes that Emanuel made in the infrastructure speech.

One local funding possibility is creating a Far South Side Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. Jones says that he worked with his alderman – Carrie Austin (34th) – on the creation of a TIF. A call to Austin’s office this afternoon was not returned.

The Red Line was not before pushed as a private investment opportunity, but as a way for government to better connect the city. CTA estimates that a current day trip from Altgeld Gardens public housing projects on 133rd St. to City Hall takes an hour, and involves a combination of three different buses, or two buses and a Metra line.

Image: 6th Ward Blogspot

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Instead of spending $1.4 Billion to extend the Red Line 6 miles, a $200 Million alternative serving a MUCH larger area (a 25 mile system) would be the CTA Gray Line Project to convert the EXISTING in-city Metra Electric services to a CTA 'L' operation: http://bit.ly/GrayLineInfo

Information about the CTA Gray Line Project will be available at the final RTA/CDOT South Lakefront Corridor Transit Study public meeting, which is coming soon: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/south_lakefron...

The CTA Gray Line Project will also be a Poster Exhibitor at the Transport Chicago Conference being held this June in Downtown Chicago: http://www.transportchicago.org/

For questions or information contact the CTA Gray Line Project at: grayline15@yahoo.com

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