Thursday, June 14, 2018

Chicago Reporter: Instead of extending the Red Line, some see promise in the Metra Electric

Red Line Extension
The future of the greater Roseland area will be affected by the future CTA red line extension. It's something that I'm very excited for and evidently the debate continues over whether or not this is the transit project the far south side of Chicago needs right now.

Another part of this debate - especially with the uncertainty of funding for this project which is only expected to be built during the course of the next decade - includes improvement of the Metra Electric line. Better yet should the Metra Electric (or IC for you old timers) be converted to a rapid transit line operated instead by CTA.
In January, the city announced the final alignment for the 5.3 mile extension to 130th Street. That’s key for the CTA to secure $1 billion in federal funding needed for the project that wouldn’t see construction start until 2022. Though the city has proposed using transit TIFs (tax increment financing) to fund part of the extension, some transit advocates contend that wouldn’t be nearly enough to make a dent in the cost. And others question whether the Trump administration would give the city $1 billion for a project of this scope.

Some transit advocates say there is a quicker and less costly way to improve transit on the South Side by converting the Metra Electric District (MED) main line into rapid transit. Retrofitting Metra’s existing rail infrastructure to accommodate rapid transit, they say, could be completed in less time than it would take to build the extension and without displacing privately owned properties, as the Red Line extension would.

But putting the Red Line extension on the backburner where it has sat for decades would be a disservice to the Far South Side, community members say. Mayor Richard J. Daley promised to extend it beyond its 95th Street terminus when he cut the ribbon on the transit line nearly 50 years ago.
A former candidate for 9th ward alderman - well not identified as such in the article - was quoted in this piece:

South Side resident Michael LaFargue says extending the Red Line south is all about equity – transit equity, economic equity and environmental equity. The loss of manufacturing jobs, he said has devastated the Roseland community economically while lack of rapid transit has made access to jobs and opportunities even more difficult.

The 111th Street station, LaFargue added, could be branded as Greater Roseland Hospital Medical District similar to the Blue Line’s Illinois Medical District. The Michigan Avenue station could reinvigorate that mile-long business corridor, making it the ‘Magnificent Mile South,’ he said.

“This is a catalyst for economic development and branding,” said LaFargue, president of the Red Line Extension Coalition, a community-based group.
And what's the difference in cost?
Policy analyst Daniel Kay Hertz of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability says both projects are important and would have significant impact. He estimated a cost of $27 million per mile to convert the Metra Electric’s South Chicago branch into rapid transit. Hertz based that figure off a 2012 Chicago Department of Transportation report  which puts the cost of converting MED’s South Chicago branch to Millennium Station — not the entire line — at $350 million. Hertz said there’s no reason the per-mile costs would differ substantially to convert the entire MED line. In comparison, the Red Line extension would cost about $434 million a mile.

“It is basically logistical stuff that they need to do as opposed to the physical engineering and  construction of several miles worth of new rail lines and stations,” Hertz said.
Finally a brief history of the Metra Electric and the advocacy for it's conversion to a CTA rapid transit line:
The MED originally ran as rapid transit and the line’s South Chicago branch ran every 10 minutes during the 1940s under its then-operator, Illinois Central. That frequency reduced when it became part of the Regional Transit Authority. Now the line has frequent service during peak evening and morning hours but runs every one to two hours during the mid-day.

The idea to convert the commuter-rail into CTA-style “L” service resurfaced again when transit advocate Mike Payne touted the plan as the Gray Line in the 1990s. It has gained traction in recent years thanks to advocacy groups like Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric and Active Transportation Alliance who want the MED to run every 10-15 minutes. Last year Metra increased mid-day frequency on the line to every 20 minutes between Hyde Park and Millennium Station.

But Metra’s fare structure could create a burden for low-income riders. Metra’s fares are distance-based where CTA charges a flat fee. And since there is no fare integration between Metra and CTA, riders would have to pay two full fares. There’s no fare discount to transfer from one transit system to the other.
What do you all think? Metra Electric (especially serving segments within the city) converted to the "grey line" operated by CTA  or the red line extension which certainly could benefit residents south of 95th through to Altgeld Gardens or perhaps there is a way to make both happen?

Found this article via Chicago-L.org.