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The Economic Impact Of Extending The Red Line South Would Be Felt Across The Far South Side

Chicago Transit Authority's preferred route for extending the Red Line ‘L’ from 95th Street to 130th Street is the latest update to a discussion that has lasted for years, and the most positive sign yet that CTA and the Emanuel administration want to address a transit desert on the city's Far South Side.

A rendering of CTA's proposed Red Line station at 103rd Street, facing northeast.

The 5.3-mile extension would run parallel to Union Pacific tracks from 95th Street to 111th Street, with stations at 103rd Street and 111th Street. From there, the route would run southeast to a proposed station at Michigan Avenue and 115th Street, before ending at 130th Street in Riverdale. There are still several steps needed to make this a reality — funding being the most pressing issue. Even if CTA can line up the $2.3B needed to make the project a go, construction would not begin until 2022, at the earliest.

Still, the most recent developments are promising for the Far South and Southeast Side neighborhoods in need of light rail, and the Red Line extension promises to maximize regional benefits of mobility and economic development.

The most immediate benefit of the Red Line extension would be a drastic cut in travel times, better connecting neighborhoods and allowing residents to seek job opportunities elsewhere. The extension is expected to serve 42,000 commuters per day. Residents traveling to the Loop from neighborhoods like Pullman, Roseland, Riverdale and Hegewisch currently face an average commute of 58 minutes. This entails a bus ride to the 95th Street Red Line station and a train ride downtown. Extending the Red Line south would cut travel times by 20 minutes. 

The proposed 130th Street station would serve the two community areas in Chicago with the fewest number of jobs available within a half-hour commute — 2,701, according to a report from the University of Illinois Chicago and Great Cities Institute. Riverdale, where the 130th Street station would be, is one of Chicago’s most economically disinvested communities. The unemployment rate in the neighborhood is 40% and per capita income is below $7,500 annually.

This is CTA's preferred route for extending the Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street.

The Red Line extension would also intersect the Pullman National Monument, improving the neighborhood’s ability to become a local tourist hub. Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) has long advocated for more public transportation serving Pullman and said he is cautiously optimistic the proposal will move forward.

The extension will require CTA to purchase nearly 150 residential and retail properties, but the route was designed to minimize the need for acquiring properties and to cut through unoccupied land parcels, which the city hopes will be appealing to developers once the route opens.

The biggest obstacle to extending the Red Line is securing the funding. CTA needs to produce a final environmental impact study, including preliminary engineering work and an impact analysis of the proposed alignment. This is necessary before CTA can apply for more than $1B in federal funds for the extension, through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, a program the Trump administration wants to eliminate.

The Emanuel administration could establish a transit tax increment financing district to fund the extension, but it would not be as lucrative on the poorer and less dense South Side as the TIF being used to help fund the North Side Red and Purple Line modernization. CTA President Dorval Carter said the agency secured $85M in local, state and federal funding for the preliminary work, and is confident funding for the extension will come together.

The Morgan Street 'L' station is one of the catalysts of Fulton Market's rise as a hot real estate submarket.

The economic impact of extending the Red Line south has a couple of precedents. The Morgan Street ‘L’ station is widely credited for Fulton Market’s transformation into Chicago’s most active real estate submarket. The station saw an average of 5,230 passengers weekly in December 2017, the most recent figures available. That is a 4.6% increase over 2016.

The McCormick Place station saw a 5.4% increase in ridership in December, with an average of 2,506 riders weekly. The station has also contributed to an uptick in development near McCormick Place and investor interest in adaptive reuse along Motor Row.