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Chicago Sun Times: $1 billion for Red Line could have easily gone sideways: Emanuel

Jan 9, 2017
In the News

The following article was published on January 9, 2017. A link to the article can be found here.

By Mitch Dudek

Mayor Rahm Emanuel took a moment Monday morning to pat his employees on the back for successfully filling out grant applications that netted $1.1 billion from the federal government to make key infrastructure improvements to portions of the Red Line on the North Side.

“If our application wasn’t right, one comma off, one estimation off — it would not have happened,” Emanuel said in offering props to CTA President Dorval Carter and CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson.

“A lot of times people in public service get run down and get made fun of and sometimes we do things to help people make those jokes at our expense, but in this case people behind both Terry and Dorval did a fabulous job,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel spoke at a news conference Monday morning held at the CTA Red Line’s Argyle station in the Uptown neighborhood, one of four stations that will be rebuilt under the modernization plan.

“You cannot have an economy move on a 21st century pace if it’s built on a 20th century structure,” Emanuel said. “And a lot of these stations . . . literally were opened in 1908 when Teddy Roosevelt was president.”

The money, with matching funds to be raised by the city, will be used to reconstruct the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations — adding elevators to each — as well as overhaul about a mile of nearby track and support structure.

The City Council unanimously authorized a transit tax-increment financing district in a special session Nov. 30 in hopes of nailing down the federal grants before Obama leaves office Jan. 20.

The TIF fund will collect money from property owners who live within a half-mile of the Red Line between North Avenue and Devon. The CTA also plans to sell bonds to raise money.

The project also calls for the creation of a “flyover” for northbound Brown Line tracks where they intersect with Red and Purple Line tracks just north of Belmont Avenue.

“This is truly a great day for Chicago,” Carter said. “The Red Line has been there for 100 years and with this project we will ensure it will be here for 100 years to come.”

The project, slated to break ground late next year, aims “to keep public transit continuous and swift,” Federal Transit Administration Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers said at the news conference.

“We cannot neglect a public transportation system that is overburdened and growing, and I’m proud that we at the FTA can stand shoulder to shoulder with you in Chicago to keep it in motion,” Flowers said.

The project, expected to take four or five years to complete, will create about 6,000 jobs — a number normally in line with airport improvement projects, Emanuel noted.

“I want it to be an economic opportunity for the entire city of Chicago,” said Emanuel, who takes the Brown Line to work twice a week.

Sen. Dick Durbin said the federal grant application “could have been lost in the transition floor . . . back in some cabinet, deep in some computer, but it was finished in time.”

Durbin noted that “time and again the Obama administration has not forgotten where he came from, has not forgotten the city of Chicago and put professionals into these agencies.”

“When you called the [Federal Transit Administration] and said ‘We’re doing something for the Red Line’ you’d likely find a person on the other end of the phone who’d say, ‘Oh, I used to take the Red Line,'” Durbin said.

‘Folks there knew where Chicago was, knew what the needs were and they were listening attentively as we asked them for the federal resources to come back from Washington,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who grew up riding the CTA, also lauded the local-federal partnership and hoped to see such deals continue under President-elect Donald Trump.

“This is the example of the kind of partnerships that really make our country go, make our trains run on time with the federal government and local government,” she said.

“The Obama administration really got that, the importance of infrastructure, and I am just hoping that as we go forward that the Trump administration will really understand how important these projects are, it’s not only about enabling people to get from here to there . . . it is about creating jobs. Yes, government can assist in creating good jobs, real jobs, and infrastructure is really at the heart of that,” she said.

U.S. Mike Quigley also stressed the importance of infrastructure.

“China is outspending us on infrastructure four to one.  Europe is outspending us on infrastructure two to one. We have to compete in the world’s economy and a project like this is absolutely essential for the future of this city and the future of the region,” Quigley said.

“Folks, the president-elect said last week that he’s backing off his infrastructure package. We can’t let that happen,” Quigley said. “It is the lifeblood of our economy that we move forward on these things.”