CTA approves $400M in borrowing for Red and Purple Lines

The Chicago Transit Authority on Wednesday approved borrowing $400 million toward a $2.1 billion-dollar series of projects to revamp the Red and Purple L lines, hoping to secure federal matching funds before the end of President Barack Obama’s term.

State law, passed along with the stopgap budget earlier this year, allows the city to capture any increases in tax revenues collected from property within half a mile of the Red Line between Devon Avenue and North Avenue, called a tax-increment financing district. With a funding source in place, CTA can apply for $1 billion in federal matching funds for the work, about half the cost of the project, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

The RPM Project, for “Red-Purple Modernization,” has been in the works for several years, and CTA officials had intended to finalize federal funding before President Obama left office, even before Republican Donald Trump won the presidential election, spokeswoman Tammy Chase said.

“I think that has always been our plan, even before last week,” Chase said.

Trump has said he intends to launch a massive infrastructure spending program once he assumes office in January, but Republicans in Congress have historically been less willing to spend tax dollars on mass transit.

The City Council still must approve creating a tax-increment financing district to cover the cost of the borrowing, a measure that would capture any increased property tax revenue for a corridor that would extend out about a quarter of a mile east and west of the Red Line between Devon Avenue and North Avenue.

State legislation passed this spring allows the CTA to receive TIF money, though the rules state the Chicago Public Schools still will get any increase in revenue they are due from property inside the TIF boundaries.

Last year, various TIF districts around the city collected $461 million that otherwise would have gone to city government, schools or the county, or toward reducing tax bills for homeowners and other property owners.

CTA Board members also voted unanimously to buy two buildings in the path of Red Line improvements on the North Side, including $1.75 million for the historic Vautravers Apartments at 947-949 W. Newport Avenue. The graystone building is in the path of the controversial “Belmont Flyover” section of the Red Line improvements, but isn’t slated for demolition. It will be moved about 20 feet out of harm’s way, Chase said. Construction would begin as soon as 2018, pending multiple layers of approval at the federal and local levels.

CTA officials still are weighing how to route a planned extension of the south end of the Red Line, extending track to West 135th Street from the Red Line’s current terminus at 95th Street, though work on that project is unlikely to begin before 2020.