The extension of the CTA Red Line south to 130th Street was recommended to get $350 million in President Joe Biden’s next budget, signaling a move by the federal government to support a project that is expected to rely heavily on federal funding.
The money, which was announced Thursday and is pending both congressional approval and CTA’s progression through a grant program, is a small piece of what CTA is seeking for the $3.6 billion project. The agency is looking for a much larger grant, and whether it will get the full amount has not yet been determined.
But the recommendation is one indication of how likely the CTA is to get the federal funding key to moving the long-discussed project forward.
“This suggests that the Department of Transportation is confident that, on the current trajectory, it will be finished,” said Adie Tomer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who leads the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative. “There are, of course, hurdles to jump over, too.”
The project calls for extending the Red Line 5.6 miles past its terminal at 95th Street. The extension, which would be elevated for much of its length and run at ground level near the end, is planned to have four stations: 103rd Street near Eggleston, 111th Street near Eggleston, Michigan Avenue near 116th Street and 130th Street near the northeast corner of Altgeld Gardens.
The project has the potential to be a major investment in the city’s Far South Side, even as it means acquiring dozens of residents’ homes.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said the extension would reduce commute times and increase opportunities for residents, as he announced the funding recommendation. The extension is expected to serve 13,000 people a day, he said.
“This is an example of what it means to have a fair and equitable approach to ensuring transit reaches everybody,” he said.
CTA President Dorval Carter said the funding shows the Biden administration’s support for the Red Line project. The city and agency will continue to pursue the full amount of federal funding they are seeking, he said.
“The inclusion of this significant level of funding in the president’s budget recommendation reflects the importance of the Red Line Extension project — not solely as a necessary transportation investment but as project that meets the Biden administration’s goals for infrastructure investments that foster equity and inclusion,” he said in a statement.
In mid-December, Chicago aldermen approved a plan to pay for part of the project, greenlighting a special transit tax district expected to raise $959 million and help CTA meet a required local match to get additional federal money.
But the agency is still looking for federal funding to cover 60% of the project’s costs — an unusually large request.
It wouldn’t be impossible for CTA to get all of the money they asked for, but it’s more common for agencies to request between 25% and 50% of the cost of a project be covered by the federal government, said Eric Goldwyn, an assistant professor at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management who has worked on a project examining transit construction costs. And expensive projects such as the Red Line extension tend to get a lower federal match.
The amount of federal money available for local transit projects has crept up, but more big projects are also vying for part of the pot, he said.
For example, federal funding recommendations announced Thursday also included $700 million for a rail tunnel project between New Jersey and Manhattan; $496.8 million for a subway project in New York; and $100 million for a bus rapid transit project in South Carolina.
But Tomer said the recommendation Thursday was a good sign for CTA, though the project is not a done deal.
The project has strong benefits, he said. Though Metra and buses already run nearby, the addition of a rapid transit rail line can add an economic boost to the region. And, unlike the other parts of the Red Line, the new stations will not be in the center of a highway median, which is positive.
“By all accounts, stretching this line further to the south to hit more neighborhoods with relatively lower household incomes, lower vehicle availability, is an excellent opportunity to improve not only the economic outcomes for the residents of those neighborhoods, but actually improve economic performance and economic vitality for certainly Chicago the city, if not all of Chicagoland,” he said.
If the rest of the federal money comes through as planned, construction on the Red Line extension could start in 2025 and be finished by 2029.