CTA rail expansion and modernization: Best reasons to support new TIFs

The CTA’s plans to extend the Red Line south to 131st Street and modernize the Red and Purple lines north of Belmont got a big boost last week when the state legislature passed a bill allowing the city to create special Tax Increment Financing districts within a half-mile on each side of 46 miles of rail tracks.

This bill, which Gov. Rauner said he will sign, would create a pool of money that allows the city to tap matching federal funding. From the Tribune report:

The projects to be covered by new TIF districts are the planned $2.1 billion modernization of the CTA Red and Purple lines, an upgrade for the Blue Line Forest Park Branch, renovation of Union Station and the much-discussed extension of the Red Line south of 95th Street. . . .

A TIF district allows the city to divert future property tax revenue increases from a district toward a public improvement project in the community, in this case a transit project. This assumes that property values will increase as a result of the project. TIFs have been subject to criticism because they direct new property tax revenue away from other public services, such as public schools.

The transit TIF legislation tries to allay that concern by continuing to give schools their portion — 54 percent — of any increased revenues. Of the rest of the increase, 80 percent would go to transit funding, while the other 20 percent would flow back to libraries, parks and other services.

Of the four projects, the Red-Purple Line modernization is the furthest along in terms of planning and needs $1 billion in federal money, but a local match is necessary to secure it. That could come from new TIF revenues, which could pay for a bond issue, as well as other funds, said CTA spokesman Brian Steele.

Much has been written about how some TIF districts benefit the rich and empowered only. But this use of TIFs will shorten commutes of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds or serve the underserved on the far South Side of Chicago.

That’s why I support this use of a TIF.


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  • The notable thing in this legislation is that it does not take money from the schools.

    The other thing it indicates is that while the state is not putting up the money, it is willing to give the city the means of doing so. However, I suppose that city property taxpayers are going to have to figure out the effect of this on the city corporate budget, plus all the tax increases that are coming for the various pension funds.

    One may also question whether this will generate enough money to pay the bonds. I suppose it could for the RPM and Blue, but given how devastated the Roseland area is, I wonder if it would generate enough new development to pay the match requirement for the cost of that project. That's sort of like banking that Whole Foods Market will save 63rd and Halsted.

  • While extending the red line to 135th would reduce the commuting time to the loop for those who would use stations on the extension and who presently use CTA buses, it would not reduce the commute time for current riders, and might well lengthen their commute time. The only way that could be prevented is if additional trains were added to compensate for the longer distance the existing trains would have to travel. The problem with adding additional trains (in addition to the capital costs) is that it would increase overall operating costs. Fares cover less than 50% of operating costs. The rest comes from taxpayers.

    There is no reliable evidence--indeed no evidence at all--that the Red Purple Line would reduce commute times. During construction (which will take at least a year, probably longer) commute times will be increased.

    As for the fly-over, the CTA claims that it will save 1 to 1.5 minutes has not been supported by any evidence.

  • In reply to Commentator:

    1. If the 130th extension is ever built (and I really doubt it, as otherwise CTA would not be spending $240 million of borrowed money to extend the 95th St. bus terminals), the consultant's report said it would need 84 more cars.
    2. If you think that the RPM is only going to take a year, I have another surprise for you. The CTA construction report for the Wilson station says that won't be done until 2018. The 2014 brochure says construction starts in 2017 and last 3-4 years, but that is only for Phase 1 (Lawrence to Ardmore), and other than buying a couple of condominium units, nothing has happened since then. So, maybe Lawrence to Rogers will be redone by 2025. As Kevin pointed out, the real impetus is that the ~90 year old embankment is otherwise on the verge of collapse.

  • In reply to jack:

    95th St is a major transfer point & obviously does not preclude the extension, which is needed. The five year 2015 Federal Transportation Act - Fast allotted $305 for transportation infrastructure. Illinois' share of this will exceed $9 Billion. $49 Billion of the total pot is allocated to transit, while $233 Billion is allocated to highways. Illinois is likely to receive well over $3 Billion for transit in the 5 year period. A big chunk of that will go to the Red Line - north & south. The TIF insures that Illinois will be able to leverage the federal funds it would otherwise lose. It will likely take another 5 or 6 year plan to get the extension built. The north side rebuild will probably take 12 to 15 years & will be done in segments.

    New York has recently completed one subway extension & is well along on the 2nd Avenue subway, as well as a multi Billion dollar commuter rail project. Toronto is planning to spend well over $10 Billion in the next 20 years. Other cities across the country are building new heavy & light rail extensions. Chicago needs to spend the next century building new extensions & maintaining the existing system. So the TIF allows the city to take a major step along that path. Either your constantly being reborn, or you're dying.

  • In reply to Soaring Hawk:

    The point still is that 95th will no longer be a major transfer point if many of the routes are diverted to 103rd, 111th, 115th/State and 130th stations. The $240 million in debt is a bad investment if it is foreseen that, say, routes 103, 108, 111, 112, 119, 352, 353, 359 are going to some other transit terminal. Not as big a waste as Block 37, but darn close.

    And "likely to receive"--note not dedicated, and also likely to be allocated to transit agencies other than CTA--isn't going to take care of the estimated $4-6 billion the various Red Line projects will cost.

  • In reply to Commentator:

    I'm absolutely baffled why a rail extension is the solution here. A true BRT line should be added. Everyone wins with that, it's a lot cheaper, and it could be in place in a fraction of the time. Far south areas are the perfect spot for BRT.

  • Commentator wrote:
    "There is no reliable evidence--indeed no evidence at all--that the Red Purple Line would reduce commute times. "

    I have never seen "reduced commute times" as the reason to complete the Red Purple Modernization Project. Instead, CTA emphasizes the need to replace the deteriorating infrastructure - mainly the viaducts and track bed.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Replacing the collapsing bridges would certainly decrease commute times. The majority of the bridges from Ainslie north to Howard & on into Evanston are in terrible shape, as they used a bad concrete mixture in 1922 when they were built.
    CTA has replaced about six in Evanston in the last few years, but most of those in the city have custom made steel supports holding them up.
    West Sheridan Road, just east of Devon & Broadway is an excellent example of that.
    But CTA also needs to return to A/B trains on the North Side Red Line. I remember a sign at Granville that had "24 Minutes To Loop", now it's lucky to do it in 40 minutes!
    Another idiocy is requiring SB Red Line trains to wait for SB Brown Line trains & both Belmont & Fullerton. CTA has even tricked out the signal system to slow trains down at Diversey, so the Brown Line trains, which must make two extra stops at Wellington & Diversey, can catch up at Fullerton, so 5-6 people can take the subway, instead of the Loop L! That costs at least two minutes for each run.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    The problem isn't the lack of A-B trains. The problem is that CTA won't flat out grow some balls and eliminate a few of the stops on the Red Line north of Wilson - the stations are spaced too closely together.

    The stops at Lawrence, Thorndale, and Jarvis could easily be eliminated as long as CTA ensure that the remaining stations have multiple entrances, one at each end of the platform. Adding entrances to the Bryn Mawr stop at Hollywood and to the Granville stop at Glenlake would make the Thorndale stop utterly redundant.

  • I have never understood some people's nostalgia for A-B service. Absent the ability to switch tracks to actually pass a train ahead, "passing" an A station on a B train (or vice versa) meant standing behind the train ahead while it stopped, *then* going through. Worst of both worlds: still waiting AND you can't get off there/people there can't board your train. Also, people who lived near a non-AB stop couldn't just board the next train when going home, as half the trains didn't serve their stop.

    A-B never actually made anything faster, and it wasn't the end of A-B "service" that slowed the trains. I think the nostalgics (1) lived near an AB stop, and (2) remember rolling past stations while conveniently forgetting in the intervening decades the frequent stops short of stations.

    A-B running would only work on the northern Red if the CTA put in crossovers between the Red and Purple tracks before and after *every* non-AB stop *and* was willing to have Red trains flitting in and out in front of Purples. It'll *never* work on the Blue (another place I encounter occasional A-B nostalgia) for the same reason that the Blue Line isn't the right choice for an airport express: adding extra tracks, other than on the expressway portion, would be too damn expensive.

  • In reply to jbredin:

    I think that the current Blue Line right-of-way could work very well for an airport express train -- if the Blue Line itself were relocated a few blocks away from the Kennedy.

    I have read about, but never experienced, the AB skip stop service and do not see how it could work in anything but ideal circumstances. Once passenger loads increase at a station and dwell times go up, the B trains is going to be stuck behind the A train. Any time saved is going to be spent waiting for a train or behind a train. Not mentioned in all of this is how a passenger is supposed to get on at an A station and off at a B. Unless every third station is an AB station to allow the transfer, it will not work. At that point, the trains are only skipping 1/3 of the stations.

  • The best option for an O'Hare express train is the MHRA's CrossRail Chicago proposal, which would utilize a right-of-way along Metra tracks between Union Station and O'Hare. With the addition of a connector at the St Charles Air Line, and through tracks at Union Station, the service would also serve McCormick Place.

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