CTA narrows possible routes for proposed Red Line expansion
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND ROSALIND ROSSI Staff Reporters April 15, 2014 10:04PM
The 95th Street station is now the end of the Red Line. That station is due for a major renovation, and the CTA is looking at routes to extend the Red Line to 130th Street. | Sun-Times File Photo
Updated: May 17, 2014 6:41AM
The CTA has narrowed to two the routes for a long-awaited Red Line extension from 95th to 130th Street — one down the middle of busy Halsted Street, the other mostly running along existing freight tracks.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), whose South Side ward would be most heavily affected by the extension, was briefed on the options Tuesday. The chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee emerged with a ringing endorsement of the alternative that steers clear of Halsted.
That option for the $2 billion, 5-mile-plus extension generally follows freight tracks operated by the Union Pacific Railroad. A large portion of the tracks run along Eggleston Avenue until about 111th Street, then curve east.
The CTA’s plan calls for four new stations: at 103rd, 111th, 115th and 130th, with a combined total of up to 2,000 “Park & Ride” spaces, the alderman said.
Construction of a new, $240 million station at the end of the current Red Line, at 95th Street, is due to begin this year and follows massive improvements to Red Line tracks from Cermak to 95th, completed last October.
Elevated tracks “would disrupt the integrity and cosmetics of Halsted. It would hurt existing businesses. I don’t think anybody wants that,” Beale said.
CTA President Forrest Claypool could not be reached for comment on Tuesday’s briefing.
Union Pacific “would be happy to talk” with the CTA about extending the Red Line, spokesman Mark Davis said Tuesday, but he noted CTA trains, powered by an electrified third rail, can’t use the same tracks as diesel freight trains.
That means the option Beale favors would require the CTA to build its own tracks, either alongside the UP track or above them.
Either way, the CTA would be required to obtain right-of-way from the railroad, Davis said. Another question is whether UP owns a wide enough right-of-way to allow another set of tracks to be built.
“From a safety standpoint, putting a commuter train next to freight lines — you need wider areas,” Davis said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned on a promise to rebuild the 95th Street station and extend the Red Line South to 130th Street.
Now that the possible routes have been narrowed from five to two, the next step is an exhaustive set of community hearings to decide which option South Side residents favor and how much parking they want at each station.
The biggest question is whether the CTA can persuade the federal government to bankroll the $2 billion project.
Beale believes the chances are good and not just because of the clout Emanuel carries as a former North Side congressman who served as White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama.
“That’s a huge ask from the federal government. But, we’ve been talking about the Red Line extension since I was a kid. Since I’ve been chairman, I’ve made this a priority. So has the mayor. I have all the confidence in the world it’s going to happen,” Beale said.
“95th Street is not the end of the city.”
If federal funding falls short, Beale said the Red Line extension could be a candidate for Emanuel’s much-ballyhooed Infrastructure Trust to persuade private investors to bankroll projects Chicago can’t afford to build on its own.
That option would likely require CTA riders to pay higher fees to guarantee private investors an attractive return on their money.
“If we have to, we can look at it, but only if it’s the only way,” Beale said.