The dramatic Chicago Transit Authority announcement yesterday that it would suspend service on all its South Side Chicago Red Line train stations for five months next year could hold a crucial silver lining: CTA may be putting its ducks in a row to extend the Red Line to 130th St.
However, any Red Line extension necessitates either federal funds that are currently not forthcoming, a major private investment, or a combination thereof.
The CTA plans to spend $425 million in a track rehab that calls for the closings of nine stations – most of which serve predominantly minority and low-income communities in addition to providing a line into the city from the South Suburbs.
According to CTA data compiled by the Chicago Tribune, the final red line stop – 95th St./Dan Ryan – serves an average of 12,700 riders each weekday. The Cermak-Chinatown stop, the northern end of the stations set to be closed, serves an average of 3,900 riders each weekday.
“Those five months will be tough for many of the people on the far South Side,” says John Paul Jones, an organizer at the Developing Communities Project, a faith-based group in the Roseland neighborhood.
CTA plans to offer a free shuttle bus service for these riders to nearby Green Line trains. But the Green Line only dips down to 63rd St. meaning shuttle bus riders must traverse potentially unfamiliar and unsafe routes. “King Drive is not a friendly spot to travel through at night,” Jones says.
But Jones does not quite see the suspension as all bad – by spending money to modernize its existing line, CTA can possibly then take the next step to secure money to extend the Red Line to the end of Chicago, a project batted around since the 1960s.
The federal government usually will not invest on a rail extension unless the current line is up to date. And CTA is also repairing – though not suspending service – on North Side Red Line stations.
However, federal money for regional transit is in limbo in Congress – yet another effort this week for the U.S. House and Senate to agree on multiyear transportation funding is not off to a promising start.
Steve Schlickman, the former head of the Regional Transit Authority, the parent agency of the CTA, says that even with the South Side repairs, CTA is not at the point where it can talk extension. There probably needs to be federal funding as well as a clear local financing plan – and no one is holding their breath on either, says Schlickman, now director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center.
On the local planning side of the equation, CTA has said that the “extensive” planning design and process for the extension is under way.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who campaigned on extending the Red Line, notably left the project out of his “Building a New Chicago Plan.” However, Jones holds some optimism that private investors may take on the project in the city’s newly created “Infrastructure Trust.” Emanuel has declined to specify any possible Infrastructure Trust project, besides a plan to energy retrofit municipal buildings.