CTA Says Red Line Extension a ‘Top Priority’ for Biden Administration, on Track to Begin Construction Next Year

A southbound CTA Red Line train is pictured in a file photo. (WTTW News)A southbound CTA Red Line train is pictured in a file photo. (WTTW News)

Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter said the agency is on track to hit a major milestone in the Red Line Extension project by the end of the year, with construction on the massive project expected to get underway in 2025.

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The CTA’s board of directors Wednesday approved a $335.9 million amendment to the agency’s 2024-2028 Capital Improvement Plan. Officials said the approval will allow the CTA to finalize its financial plan, which the Federal Transit Administration must then review and approve before authorizing billions in grant money.

Carter told the board he met with the head of the FTA on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., who assured him the Red Line Extension is a “top priority project” for President Joe Biden’s administration. The president’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal includes an initial round of $350 million in funding for the ambitious effort.

FTA officials are “very upbeat about our project and very upbeat about the timeline for getting the full funding grant agreement … in place by the end of this year,” Carter said. “By all accounts, we’re on target to accomplish that.”

That will allow the CTA to break ground on the $3.6 billion extension, which will carry the Red Line 5.6 miles south from its current terminus at 95th Street down to 130th Street. Nearly $2 billion in funding is slated to come from the federal government. About $1 billion is expected from a local tax increment financing, or TIF, district designated for transit funding, with the remainder a mix of state, CTA and other sources.

Carter also visited Springfield earlier this month, testifying in a hearing before members of the General Assembly and meeting with Illinois Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch to discuss the “looming fiscal cliff” the CTA and other public transit agencies are facing. With ridership still down from pre-pandemic levels, the CTA has been relying on federal COVID-19 relief funds to make up for the drop in passenger revenue.

So far, the CTA has used about 55% of that relief cash and has about $986 million remaining in its coffers. The agency’s CFO, Jeremy Fine, said that funding is currently expected to last into early 2026, though he acknowledged it’s a “dynamic situation.”

Officials previously estimated a budget gap of as much as $700 million if passenger revenue doesn’t bounce back before the relief money runs out.

“I’m very encouraged with the overall receptiveness of the legislature to recognize that there is a problem here that CTA cannot solve by itself, and one in which we’re going to need some sort of broader holistic solution to what the funding opportunities are,” Carter said of his lobbying efforts in Springfield.

The board also celebrated the achievements of the CTA’s Second Chance Program, a jobs program that offers entry-level positions to people who have employment barriers including incarceration, homelessness or domestic violence. Program leaders described it as a “national model” that offers not just jobs but also a broad range of support including job readiness training, mentorship opportunities and more.

Since 2011, the agency said, more than 1,100 people have completed the program, with 550 hired into permanent positions at the CTA.

Contact Nick Blumberg: [email protected] | (773) 509-5434 | @ndblumberg

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