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Chicago Locks Down $1.1 Billion For CTA Just Before Obama Leaves Office

 Purple Line trains were suspended after a
Purple Line trains were suspended after a "minor" derailment Friday, the CTA said.
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Flickr/chicagobart

CHICAGO — Federal officials announced late Sunday they would give the city a $1 billion grant to cover half the cost of renovating the Red and Purple CTA train lines, in what will likely be President Barack Obama's farewell gift to his adopted hometown.

In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel billed the $2.1 billion project — expected to start in 2018 and take four or five years to complete — as the largest capital project in CTA history.

“This type of investment in transit is an investment in Chicago’s residents and neighborhoods, connecting them to jobs, education and more," Emanuel said.

The news of the decision — to be formally announced Monday — came after weeks of scrambling by city officials determined to finalize the grant before Obama's time in the White House ends. There was no assurance the money would have been available after Jan. 20, when President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office.

Before the council approved a new tax increment financing district designed to cover the remaining cost of the project, Ald. Edward Burke (14th) said the project may well shape "the future of Chicago public transportation for the next 50 to 80 years."

The project is expected to create 5,700 construction jobs, and several aldermen have said they hope it employs Chicagoans struggling to find jobs.

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.

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.

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 trains pass by, officials said.

The project also includes plans to build a Belmont flyover that have been met with fierce opposition from some Lakeview residents.

The 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.

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