CHICAGO — The mayor has secured a $100 million loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation to complete the ambitious Riverwalk project within three years.
"This is a done deal," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in making the announcement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel Thursday.
It's the first loan delivered through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act since it was expanded by Congress last year.
Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said the 35-year loan would be paid off largely through tour-boat fees. LaHood emphasized the deal met stringent federal requirements and that it will be finalized in June.
"The financial stability of this project is solid," LaHood said. "It's a matter now of finishing up the paperwork."
The Riverwalk extension, running along the south shoreline from Lake Michigan to the branching of the Chicago River across from Wolf Point, envisions a different thematic construction on each block from Michigan Avenue on, but a unified walkway enhanced with restaurants, retail space, boat docking, bike and kayak rentals and even a "Swimming Hole." It was planned as part of the Wacker Drive reconstruction in the 1990s, but it was only last year that the city laid out final plans for the Riverwalk.
Emanuel called it "the next recreational frontier" for the city. Work will commence next year and be completed in 2016. He added that it would create 400 jobs in construction and 400 permanent jobs upon completion.
LaHood said it would create "another economic corridor in downtown Chicago."
Emanuel and LaHood both emphasized how their long friendship and working relationship paved the way for the funding. They also credited U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.
"For more than a decade, I've made the Wacker Drive reconstruction project a priority, securing substantial federal support, and I look forward to working closely with the mayor on the final phase of the project," Durbin said in a statement. "I supported TIFIA's expansion last year and am pleased Chicago is seizing the opportunity to tap the program."