CTA Red Line Extension Could Impact Southside Residents | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

CTA Red Line Extension Could Impact Southside Residents

Wednesday and Thursday night, the Chicago Transit Authority will present plans to extend the Red Line. The proposal is to take the line from Howard Street on the North Side to farther than the Dan Ryan expressway and 95th Street on the South Side. The plan has been talked about for decades.

Presentations from June 3, June 4 Red Line Extension Open Houses
Related: CTA Officials Recommend a Red Line Route Expansion

Imagine this was your daily commute:

BECK: I have to leave by 1:15 and I start at 4:30.
PETERSON: In the morning?
BECK: Yeah, AM! [laughter]

That's how Lola Beck gets to her job every week. She can tell you everything about her commute.

BECK: The 34, if I get there at 1:50, I can get to the Red Line about 2:05, 2:10. That train leaves out...

Lola lives in the five-mile stretch of Chicago south of 95th Street that is beyond the reach of the el. According to the 2000 census, residents in this area, which includes the neighborhoods of Riverdale, Pullman, and Roseland, have one of the longest commutes in the country.

BECK:…then I can get to O'Hare at least by 3:30.

Lola said she would love to see the train extended to her neighborhood.

BECK: Yes, but I think it would be a wonderful idea. It would be a blessing to the people. And then they could bring Roseland back to where it used to be when we first moved out here.

LOVE: The far Southside of Chicago is the last remaining part of the city that's not connected.

That's Rev. Dr. Alvin Love with the Developing Communities Project, a group that has been working to get the CTA Red Line extended.

LOVE: Right now they pay what I call a South Side tax, because they have to take at least one bus, sometimes two buses, before they can get to the train. So it places a hardship on people to be able to go where the available jobs are.

So why doesn't the Red Line go further south?

LOVE: I just don't think the far South Side has ever been a priority for the city. It's like we're out here and don't exist, and so it takes community residents to basically stand up and say, 'Hello, we're here, and we want the same rights and the same opportunities as any other resident of Chicago.'

Rev. Love says the red line extension would also bring much needed transit-oriented, economic development. That's what happened, he says, on the southwest side when the orange line was extended to Midway Airport in the early 1990s.

LOVE: You go from Midway coming into downtown where there used to be all those factories on the southwest side, now you have all these businesses: Dominicks, Jewel, and these great shopping malls. All of that stuff has been done because of that orange line. You get the red line extended, you get the same kind of economic development happening on the South Side.

The Red Line's 95th Street station was completed in 1969, and just four years later the CTA began talking about extending it again. Dominic Pacyga, history professor at Columbia College Chicago, says one reason Red Line plans never went any further is because the South Side doesn't have the political clout to make it happen.

PACYGA: Frankly, in the real world, class counts and people who vote count and people who have clout count. I mean, how much pressure can be put on city hall to expand that red line?

The DCP would like to bring pressure on the city and state, but Rev. Love says the organization was never able to recruit a strong political leader to help. The group kept on pushing anyway.

TURNER: We are on the eve of accomplishing something that, something that a community organization has rarely has accomplished in this country.

That's Lou Turner, the public policy consultant for the DCP. He's speaking to a group of 18 people sitting in folding chairs in the basement of a Roseland Church. He pulls out a flyer announcing the CTA meeting on June 3 and 4.

TURNER: This is an historic flyer. Keep it, put it in your records because after the fact you're gonna look back and say, 'That was it.'

Tonight the group expects to see the CTA's plans for the new Red Line route. The meeting is somewhat routine for the CTA. For members of DCP, the question is whether this meeting is more than just a significant milestone.

TURNER: Everybody loves this project. We are loved to death. How can you not? That's not the issue. The issue is, are you going to make it your priority?

TAYLOR: The CTA is actually leading the way in the extension of the Red Line.

That's CTA spokeswoman Wanda Taylor.

TAYLOR: We can't just go out and say, 'Okay, we're going to extend it.' These projects have to go through the federal process in order to get federal funds.

But the DCP says that the Red Line extension is competing with other CTA projects, such as the Circle Line. The CTA says that's not the case.

TAYLOR: These projects aren't competing against each other. They are all equally important to CTA.

The DCP knows that it's going to take more than their efforts to get the Red Line extended. Rick Bryant is district administrator in U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Homewood office. Bryant says the support they need must come from the Mayor of Chicago.

BRYANT: The mayor always has somebody close to him running the CTA, and this project will never get done without the CTA's leadership and cooperation, ie, the mayor's leadership and cooperation.

The DCP knows that the red line extension has a long way to go. Its members conclude each meeting with a prayer.

FLOYD: God our father, in the name of Jesus we thank you now for this venture that is before us, this extension of the CTA Red Line…

Tonight's meeting is a step toward the realization of a Red Line extension. There should now be real plans on the table. But Rev. Love and DCP community members say to make that route a reality, they'll have to keep up their fight.

FLOYD: …And we pray that we would help others become aware of what shall come to pass. In Jesus' name we pray, amen. (Amen.)

Northwestern University students Brittany Petersen, Andrew Bowen, Andrea Castillo and Jason Plautz produced this story.

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