Red Line Extension Offers a Ride Out of Poverty
As a candidate for mayor, Rahm Emanuel vowed to make CTA’s Red Line Extension his top priority in improving transportation in Chicago. Just a few weeks ago, as Mayor Emanuel, he announced the creation of a $1.7 billion “Infrastructure Trust” that would support “transformational” projects, including the Red Line extension. Then just a few days ago, Emanuel re-announced his plan with a slight twist—it now includes $7 billion worth of infrastructure projects.
What is the extension? Why is it a priority for Mayor Emanuel?
The Red Line is the workhorse of the CTA system, accounting for 245,402 riders per weekday, which is nearly a third of total train ridership. It is 22 miles long, running from Howard Street on the North Side to 95th Street to the south. In recent years there have been a number of proposed improvements. CMAP has identified the most feasible extension and included it in the GO TO 2040 plan.
The South Extension project would add 5.5 miles to the Red Line, taking it from its current terminus along I-57 and following the Union Pacific corridor down to 130th St. It would operate on an elevated structure for its entire length. Stations are planned at 103rd, 111th, and 115th. Estimates for completion of the project range from 2016 into the unknown, as the project has been on the table since the late 1960s, when the Red Line was expanded to 95th Street.
The Red Line expansion represents a ticket out of poverty for many people on the far South Side. The lack of rail connections in this part of Chicago means people have no rapid, inexpensive way to get into the city for work. A map from one of our recent publications, Prospering in Place, shows that the end of the Red Line to the south has “low” or “very low” access to jobs.
Many of the un-served neighborhoods are disadvantaged already, and the lack of access to jobs keeps unemployment and poverty rates high. The map below, also from “Prospering in Place”, shows high poverty concentrations on the South Side of Chicago.
The same lack of access to jobs also hinders residents from having easy and safe routes to essential services, including hospitals and schools. New rail stations provide a chance to revitalize blighted neighborhoods through creation of transit-oriented developments that would include affordable housing, shops, and other mixed-use retail outlets within walking distance of the new stations.
At the CTA, where I sit on the Board of Directors, we are in the midst of completing the required Environmental Impact Statement for the expansion, which is expected to be finished in 2014. The CTA is moving forward with the process on our end to ensure the project can proceed as soon as funding is secured. We’re encouraged the extension remains a priority for Mayor Emanuel.