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Officials Go Full-Speed Ahead To Lock Down $1.1B For CTA Before Trump

By Heather Cherone | November 28, 2016 5:24am

A rendering of what the Bryn Mawr station on the Red Line would look like once the project is complete. [CTA]

CITY HALL — City officials are set to approve plans Wednesday for a new tax increment financing district designed to fund a $2.1 billion renovation of the Red and Purple CTA train lines.

But time is of the essence — the plan must be approved Wednesday and submitted to federal officials by the end of the day to have a shot at winning federal approval before President Barack Obama leaves office.

City officials are racing the clock because $1.1 billion in federal money is on the line — and there are no guarantees the money will still be there after Jan. 20, when businessman-turned-politician Donald Trump takes the oath of office.

As part of a June compromise on the state's budget, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council now have the ability to create Tax Increment Financing districts to help pay for major transit projects.

The first such district is set to be created between North and Devon avenues along the Red and Purple Line tracks. It is expected to generate $622 million. Those funds — plus $428 million in other CTA money — will be used to match the federal grant and fund the project, officials said.

CTA Chief Planning Officer Carole Morey told the City Council that the project includes plans to rebuild the 100-year-old embankment that supports the track between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr avenues, making it possible for six to eight more trains per hour to travel from Howard to 95th streets on the Red Line.

That should prevent riders from having to wait as packed train after packed train passes by, Morey said.

Renderings show what the Brown Line flyover would look like at the Belmont station. [CTA]

The project also includes plans to rebuild the 109-year-old Belmont Flyover that have met with fierce opposition from some Lakeview residents.

The reconfigured flyover requires the CTA to acquire and demolish 16 buildings to have enough space to separate Brown Line tracks from Red and Purple Line ones and speed train cars through what is now a bottleneck.

In 2014, more than 70 percent of voters in the 44th Ward voted against the project in a non-binding referendum.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said during a City Council committee meeting Tuesday there was no doubt that the project was "really important" for the city.

"But in my ward, it will cause a lot of angst," Tunney said, adding that the planned construction, set to start next year, has already depressed the value of properties in his ward.

"These people are furious, and they have a right to be," Tunney said. "Residents and businesses are suffering."

But Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), whose ward is bisected by the Red and Purple lines, said creating a TIF district was the only option for the city, since Illinois' budget crisis — exacerbated by nearly two years of political gridlock — means there are no state funds available.

"This painful dust project has to happen," Osterman said, noting that it will solve the problem of slow zones and make four stations between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr avenues accessible to those with disabilities.

TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.

But to blunt criticism that TIF districts hurt the Chicago Public Schools, the school district will not see its share of property tax revenues lowered by the new transit TIF.

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