The far South Side is one step closer to a Red Line extension

Red Line Meeting
Residents line up to talk about whether their home is on the proposed routes for the Red Line extension to 130th Street.

By David Jordan

Jerry Brown is frustrated after years of broken promises.

The West Pullman resident is one of many eager to hear the latest   plans to bring Chicago Transit Authority train stations to the largely black communities on the city’s far South Side.

The long-promised project has recently gotten a firmer timeline from the city, but Brown wonders why the communities went unserved for so long.

“The question I have is, Why has it taken 15 to 18 years to get this plan?  There have been a lot of different plans. I think this is the third environmental impact study, the second engineering study,” said Brown.

The plan to extend the Red Line past 95th Street is a nearly five-decade old promise, dating from when then-mayor Richard J. Daley promised the residents of deindustrialized communities located closer to the Indiana border than the Loop that they would receive a connection to downtown Chicago.

Beginning in the 1950s, when the railroads began restructuring and manufacturing started to leave the city, residents of the far South Side found themselves with less economic opportunity. Over the years, community members have lobbied for the Red Line extension but the project never came to be, even as extensions appeared along other lines.

Last month the city took a major step toward securing federal funds for the extension with the completion of an extensive environmental impact studies. The report nailed down two possible routes the track could take, along the east or west side of the existing Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way.

Regardless of which plan is chosen, the $2.3 billion extension will add 5.3 miles to the Red Line, with four new stations, park-and-ride facilities and a new shop yard for CTA trains. The terminus of the Red Line will shift 35 blocks south, from its current end at 95th Street in Roseland to 130th Street in Riverdale, just north of the Altgeld Gardens public housing project. Construction would not begin until 2022, with an estimated completion date of 2026.

The proposed routes for the CTA extension to 130th Street, ending just north of the city’s southern border. Image courtesy CTA.
These details were reviewed for residents, who crowded into the basement of St. John Missionary Baptist Church on 115th Street recently for a public hearing, a federal requirement to receive funding. The CTA began taking public comment after the report was published on October 6 and will continue through the end of November.

The immediate concern for many was whether or not their homes would be affected by the extension. Along either route there will be displacements and properties will need to be demolished. The east route would affect 106 buildings, mainly single-family homes, while the west route would affect 46 buildings in a more industrial area.

“We have narrowed it down to the properties that would be affected, and they have been notified by mail,” said CTA spokesperson Irene Ferradaz.

Cecilia Gutierrez was one of the many residents hoping to speak to CTA officials for clarification on the implications of project. She had already received notification in the mail that her home would be directly in the path of the train if the city chooses to construct along the east route.

“I’m waiting to see if the will choose the east route,” said Gutierrez. “But if they choose to build west it will be really great for getting places,” she added with a laugh.

Jillian Campbell came to the meeting with her mother Marthann out of a similar concern for her home. On the maps she saw, it was unclear  whether or not the train  would go through her living room. Although her home will be spared, she is now going to be sandwiched between a bridge over I-57 and the new Red Line.

Before the meeting she was anxious  about whether or not the home her grandfather built would be in jeopardy, but afterwards  she worried about the effects of construction. She feels that the CTA could have done a better job of communicating with her family.

“I understand why we need the extension, but I did not know a lot of this until just a couple moments ago,” said Campbell.

Transportation planner Emily Ritzler, hired to consult on the project, was on hand to explain the construction process and how the CTA plans to use best practices to ensure that residents like Campbell are as minimally affected as possible.

The city will add noise buffers along the bottom of the tracks and work with contractors to ensure that they can disturb as few residents as possible, said Ritzler.

In all, the city estimates that noise and vibration from the train would not be any greater that what the neighborhoods already experience on a daily basis. “It’s your home, you have every reason to be concerned, but we have demonstrated with analysis that this would not be an issue,” said Ritzler.

It is estimated that as a result of the extension about 128,000 Chicagoans would be affected and  6,000 construction jobs would be brought to the neighborhood.

Economic opportunity was a large part of the CTA messaging during the public hearing. As residents discussed the implications of the project, a short video touted the benefits they will see  with  a shorter commute from the center of the city.

Sylvia Jones, however, was unconvinced.

She has worked with the Developing Communities Project and worries that organizations like hers, which advocate for residents on the far South Side, are no longer being listened to.

“Since this mayor has gotten into office there is no communication, it’s like we don’t exist,” said Jones. “Say what you will about [Richard M.] Daley, but at least there was inclusion,” she added.

She worries that gentrification will soon come to Pullman if the project does not properly address the underlying issues that have made finding long term jobs difficult for many residents. While the CTA touts the potential to get to jobs in other parts of the city,  Jones asks “What jobs? Burger King? White Castle? Union jobs are closed off.”

With the extension, the Red Line will run the entire length of the city, going just a few blocks from the southern border in Riverdale to the northern border in Rogers Park. The 95th Street station currently sees about 11,000 weekday riders, making it one of the busiest stations in the entire train system. And while many residents are excited about access, they question what else the new stations will bring.

Far South Side residents line up to discuss whether their home is situated along one of the two routes proposed for the Red Line extension to 130th Street Nov. 9, 2016. (David Jordan/MEDILL)