Planned Red Line extension brings hopes, worries to neighborhood newstrendslive

Godfrey Lawson remembers a bustling South Michigan Avenue with movie theaters, restaurants and stores.

He watched as, over the years, the commercial stretch near his home in the Rosemoor community on the Far South Side went dormant. He listened for decades to talk that the CTA Red Line could be extended to run nearby.

The CTA added to the Blue Line, built the Orange Line and created the Pink Line. Lawson, 76, is still waiting for the Red Line to come through.

The extension took a major step forward recently when Chicago aldermen approved a measure that would generate some of the funding needed to pay for the project. Though part of the proposed path of the train runs blocks from Michigan Avenue, Lawson hopes it will be the first step toward bringing more coffee shops and mom-and-pop restaurants back to the neighborhood.

“I would have liked to live long enough to see it, prosper from it,” he said.

Godfrey Lawson stands at 111th Street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago on Dec. 27, 2022. Lawson is hopeful that the proposed extension of the CTA Red Line would revitalize the once-vibrant business corridor.

The planned extension of the busy Red Line south to 130th Street in Altgeld Gardens has many residents excited about the possibility of development in nearby neighborhoods including Roseland, which has seen high unemployment and disinvestment. The project has the potential to help transform the area and the day-to-day lives of residents who commute to jobs or school, they said.

But it will take work from CTA and the city to make sure the communities benefit, observers said, and the project is not without concerns. It calls for acquiring dozens of homes, forcing residents to find new places to live. And it will be years before trains could be up and running.

The project would extend the Red Line 5.6 miles past its terminal at 95th Street, into neighborhoods where public transit consists largely of a handful of bus routes that don’t always connect to downtown. The Metra Electric commuter rail line runs south and east of most of the proposed stations, passing through West Pullman and Pullman.

The $3.6 billion extension is set to include stops at 103rd Street near Eggleston, 111th Street near Eggleston, Michigan Avenue near 116th Street and 130th Street near the northeast side of Altgeld Gardens. In mid-December, 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.

CTA is looking for the remaining funding for the project, including pursuing a large federal grant. If the money comes through, construction could start in 2025 and be finished by 2029.

Already, some of the people who stand to lose their homes as the project progresses know they will need to move.

Sixty-seven single-family homes and multifamily buildings could be acquired as part of the project, according to an environmental impact study made public in 2022. Another 240 properties also stand to be affected through full or partial acquisitions or easements, including commercial sites, vacant properties and churches.

The homes include several along a residential block of East 116th Street that back onto freight railroad tracks next to which the Red Line is set to run. One of them is the home of Esteban Garcia, who has lived in the house for 30 years and spent nearly his whole life in the area.

Garcia, 64, doesn’t want to move, but he doesn’t think he has much choice if the government is telling him he has to, he said in Spanish. His wife suggested they move to Indiana when they leave, he said.

Esteban Garcia sits outside his home in 100 block of East 116th Street in Chicago on Dec. 20, 2022. The homes on his block would be in the path of a proposed extension of the CTA Red Line.

Down the street, Antonio Huizar has also been told he needs to leave his home of about 10 years. He has lived some 20 years in the neighborhood, where he has a yardwork business, he said in Spanish. The family might move to Hegewisch or Hammond, Huizar said.

Across the street, Estela Cano’s home isn’t slated for acquisition, but it would overlook the new tracks. Cano, 68, has lived in her home for 40 years, and she was skeptical the extension would move forward now after years of hearing about it.

One of her three sons is opposed to the extension, she said, which would bring strangers and additional noise past her house.

“We’ve heard so much about the Red Line, and we really don’t want to have it right in front of our house,” she said.

CTA said it reached out to property owners who could have to move in 2016, 2018 and the years since. The agency is required to pay fair market value for properties, and property owners are entitled to other relocation services such as payment of moving costs.

Cheryl Johnson, who has lived in Altgeld Gardens most of her life, said the potential effects on homeowners and the need to displace residents were major downsides to the project.

But Johnson, executive director of People for Community Recovery, an organization founded by her mother and based in the community, has been a strong supporter of the Red Line extension for decades. It could bring people into the neighborhood — including residents who drive to the station and park — who want to spend money in stores or restaurants, spurring demand for a commercial strip, she said.

Cheryl Johnson, executive director of the environmental justice group People for Community Recovery, stands in the Altgeld Gardens housing project in Chicago on Dec. 20, 2022, near the site where a proposed extension of the Red Line would terminate.

The extension can create a one-stop option to get from Altgeld Gardens to downtown, rather than forcing residents to transfer between buses or the bus and the train, Johnson said. That can be a game-changer for high school and college students, making it easier and quicker for them to get to classes and giving them better access to more parts of the city.

The extension also plays a key role in a broader push to promote tourism on the Far South Side, connecting people to recreational opportunities at the nearby Beaubien Woods or on the Little Calumet River, and to an African American heritage water trail highlighting the history of the area.

Johnson said she wants the project to have an environmental focus.

“We’ve been such an isolated area ever since this was built, so having that exposure,” she said. “Or to have a place where, you know, a little cafe in the community where people can go to and have coffee, or to have a little small art gallery to inspire young people.”

She also hopes to get neighborhood residents trained for job opportunities the extension could bring, she said.

Training to prepare local residents for construction or transit jobs will be a key issue for CTA and the city and could begin now, said Dallas Gordon, operations manager for a workforce center in nearby Washington Heights who is involved in a coalition of neighborhood community groups.

Not only will training help ensure residents get available jobs, but those jobs can have an outsize effect on the local economy, said Gordon, who lives in the south suburbs. Dollars earned by someone working closer to home get circulated around the community, while a worker from a different neighborhood takes their money back home with them.

“If we know years in advance that these opportunities are going to be there, what can we do to get people pipelined into some of these spaces?” he said. “Without doing that, if you’re not creating that space for someone where they can see that, ‘Hey, this really will lead to that,’ you’re not going to get the interest from the community to even consider going along that pathway.”

Community investment could start now, even as construction and operation of the rail line remains years away, he said. CTA could help local residents land jobs in the planning and development stages of the project, offer internships to local students to spur interest in transit-related careers, and reach out to high school students who will be in the workforce by the time the trains get up and running, he said.

Metra trains and buses run through parts of the neighborhoods now. When Cano, who lives across from the path of the proposed extension, heads downtown, she takes the Metra Electric line from the Kensington station about a half mile from her home, she said.

While Metra and buses are important to the community, they serve different purposes than a rapid transit train line would, Gordon said. Metra doesn’t run as often as the “L,” and buses plod along, making many stops.

An “L” line would also help showcase what the South Side has to offer, including the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, Pullman National Monument, Obama Presidential Center and Major Taylor Trail, he said.

“But it also means providing a way for someone from up north to come and benefit from some of the wonders that we have down on the South Side,” Gordan said.

Quick connections to other neighborhoods and downtown also provide access to jobs, government services said hospitals, said Gwendolyn Purifoye, a professor at the University of Notre Dame who lives in Chicago and has researched transit. The time it takes to travel to city resources is time residents can’t spend with family, community, making dinner or relaxing, she said.

The extension has the potential to spur investment in the communities, but it won’t reverse years of disinvestment on its own, she said. It should be paired with a focus on neighborhood schools, youths and services. Programs should offer support for people who will be forced to move out of their communities. The city can also help neighborhoods by improving bus service, beautifying streets and making them more walkable, she said.

Investment should begin long before the train line breaks ground, she said.

“If you’re going to get it right, if you say you’re going to build equity, you can’t half do it,” she said. “You have to be honest.”

The Greater Roseland area is one of 10 community areas on Chicago’s South and West sides targeted for development under the city’s three-year-old Invest South/West initiative. The program includes a focus on stretches of 111th Street and South Michigan Avenue and, in December, the city issued a request for qualifications for development of three sites along Michigan Avenue.

The CTA said it is working on job training efforts and to promote development in the surrounding neighborhoods. The agency highlighted its work with local firms owned by women and people of color, and said it is working to “establish a pipeline for construction careers with family-sustaining wages.” CTA also held a job event to highlight openings already available to residents who live near the extension, and is planning more events to boost awareness of training and career opportunities, the agency said.

CTA and city officials are creating a development plan to identify measures needed for mixed-use development and to improve the local economy, connections to other types of transportation and the environment for pedestrians, the agency said. It includes a focus on a type of planning intended to promote development without displacing residents and ensure community benefits such as affordable housing and sustainability, according to CTA.

Lawson, who lives in the nearby Rosemoor community, hopes he will one day have more options to grab a quick meal nearby with his wife.

If the Red Line extension comes through, he and his wife would take the train for day trips downtown, he said. Ride-shares are expensive, and to take the train into the city center he often drives to a station farther north and parks.

“I want quality of life within my community,” he said. “Within a two- or three-mile radius here.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.