(Produced by Alexandra Silets)
Mayor Lori Lightfoot Wednesday launched a full-steam-ahead push to convince the Chicago City Council to use property tax revenue generated downtown to fund the $3.6 billion extension of the CTA’s Red Line from 95th Street to the city’s southern border near 130th Street.
Lightfoot formally introduced a proposal on Wednesday to the Chicago City Council to create a new tax-increment financing district along the southern branch of the CTA Red Line to fund the extension of the train line first envisioned by former Mayor Richard J. Daley in the 1950s.
The Chicago City Council could vote by the end of the year to approve the proposal, which would generate $950 million for the project by funneling a portion of the increase in property tax revenues for the next 35 years from the 42nd, 3rd, 4th, 11th and 25th wards — even though the extension of the train line would be miles away from any of those wards.
Lightfoot used her post-City Council news conference Wednesday to tout the 5.6-mile Red Line extension with four stations as one of the “most critical investments in CTA’s history” and said it will “undoubtedly be a transformative development for our Far South Side community.”
The city must match an expected federal grant of $2.16 billion before the first track can be laid — but it is not clear whether the City Council will give the project signal clearance.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), an ally of the mayor and chair of the City Council’s Budget Committee, told the members of the Community Development Commission in October that the “jury was still out” on whether she would support the proposal but would continue to discuss the issue with Lightfoot's administration.
In August, Dowell told the commission the proposal would be a “bad deal” for residents of Bronzeville and set a bad precedent.
Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th Ward) supports the proposal, officials said. Sigcho Lopez is a frequent critic of Lightfoot.
CTA officials have defended the plan by saying the extension will benefit the entire city — not just the Far South Side — by allowing people to get to work in the Loop 30 minutes faster while reducing carbon emissions from cars.
The proposal, which officials said would create 6,000 jobs, also has the support of the politically powerful Chicago Federation of Labor.
Flanked by members of unions who would build the extension of the train line, Lightfoot acknowledged that she had yet to secure enough votes on the City Council to pass the proposal — but noted that the city’s first Transit TIF was created in 2017 to fund the reconstruction of the Red, Purple and Brown lines on the North Side with little controversy. That work is underway now.
“What I’ve heard is, ‘hey, we did this for the North Side, without any hesitation, without any concerns,’” said Lightfoot, who is running for a second term as mayor. “Let’s do it for the South Side. Let’s do it for these communities that have been disconnected from rail service for forever.”
The extension of the Red Line “will breathe new life” into Roseland, which has suffered from decades of disinvestment, Lightfoot said.
“The potential for economic development around these different stops is exponential,” Lightfoot said, adding that the Far South Side deserves the same kind of investment that North Side neighborhoods have taken for granted.
The city’s use of TIF districts has fueled a perennial argument over whether the districts, which capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for 23 years, actually spur redevelopment and eradicate blight or serve to exacerbate growing inequality in Chicago. The proposed TIF to fund the extension of the Red Line would not reduce funding to the Chicago Public Schools.
Typically, the funds generated by TIF must be used in the same area of the city that the taxes were generated. But the TIF proposed by Lightfoot would use the growth concentrated downtown and south of the Loop to fund the train line extension on the Far South Side, where property tax revenue has been stagnant or declining for many years — a reminder of the legacy left by modern segregation.