Calling it an issue of “social justice” and “fairness,” Chicago aldermen approved a new plan to finance a decades-in-the-making southbound extension of the CTA’s Red Line.
“I am deeply humbled to be the mayor who is finally getting this across the finish line,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said after the vote. “This project perfectly aligns with my priorities to increase equity across our city.”
The 5.6-mile extension would add four new stations near 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue and 130th Street. The rail line would be elevated from 95th Street, where it runs along the highway, and will connect areas such as the Roseland Medical Center and commercial corridor.
Several aldermen said it was about time the city finally made strides to address the social inequities that left entire neighborhoods on the South Side without any access to the trains that half of the city takes for granted.
“We shouldn’t live in a world class city where there are transportation deserts. That should not be allowed to exist,” said Ald. Andre Vazquez, 40th Ward of Andersonville. “And we know that it does because in the inception and creation of this city, it was intentional to segregate it.”
“This is an issue of equity,” said Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th Ward of West Garfield Park. “It is not equal when a part of our city does not have access that the rest of us do.”
The plan calls for a new TIF, or tax increment financing district. The TIF will raise $950 million toward the $3.6 billion project and is needed to tap into federal dollars, which will cover about two-thirds of the overall project. City Council approval is needed before the end of the year to be eligible for that federal money.
Unlike most TIFs, which have a lifespan of 23 years, this special transit TIF will be collecting property taxes for 35 years.
The new proposed TIF would also be the city’s first so-called “equity TIF” — instead of pooling taxes from the properties within the project’s boundary, it will take taxes from downtown, the South Loop, parts of Chinatown and Bridgeport and use them for development of the transit line further south. In total, four wards would carry the responsibility of financing this project.
(To see if your property is within the boundary, you can use this search tool created by the city.)
It is for that reason Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward, voted against the project, the lone council member to do so Wednesday. While she didn’t speak on the issue to the full council, she earlier this week called it “porting on steroids,” referring to the practice of pulling taxes from one area and shifting it to another. The Near South Side alderwoman said the entire city should share the responsibility of financing such a large project. She added that the county and state should also pitch in.
Bike lane enforcement
The city will soon have more tools to clear bike lanes for cyclists under an ordinance passed Wednesday.
The department of transportation – not just police – will have the authority to issue violations or order tow trucks for drivers parking or standing in a bike lane. The fine for blocking a bike lane, even if it doesn’t cause a collision, will increase from $150 to the maximum $250.
If construction work is blocking a bike lane, the ordinance states the work site must have “appropriate traffic control devices.” Failure to do so can result in fines between $500 and $2,500.
The ordinance was spurred by the death of 3-year-old Elizabeth Grace Shambrook, who was riding on the back of her mother’s bicycle when she swerved to avoid an illegally parked ComEd truck and was run over by a semi-truck.
From 2020 to July 2022, at least 439 cyclists have been hit by drivers in bike lanes, according to Block Club Chicago and the Illinois Answers Project.
“This travesty and others could have been prevented by our government,” said Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th Ward, who sponsored the ordinance.
Marina Ross’ 2-year-old son, Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas, was struck and killed by a driver as he played on a mini scooter in the Lincoln Square neighborhood in June. Speaking at a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s council meeting, Ross said his death was part of a grim pattern, and urged unsafe drivers to be held accountable.
“One week ago we would have been celebrating his 3rd birthday. Now I look at my calendar and I have to call the funeral home to choose his grave marker,” Ross said. “Losing your child destroys you. Destroys your family and the communities where this happens.”
Bally’s casino clear final city test
A proposed Bally’s casino and entertainment complex in River West cleared its final regulatory hurdle in Chicago this week after the City Council approved the development’s zoning plans.
Set to open in 2026, the casino will include a hotel, museum, event center and nearly 4,800 residential units once completed. Earlier this week, several aldermen expressed concerns the project was being rushed and that the full impacts on traffic and congestion had not been debated. The zoning changes passed by a vote of 39 to 5.
The casino’s license must still be approved by the Illinois Gaming Board.
City Council gets a new member
The City Council unanimously confirmed attorney, and now 12th ward alderman, Anabel Abarca.
Abarca replaces former Ald. George Cardenas, who left the council last month after winning election to the Cook County Board of Review. Abarca previously worked as Cardenas’ chief of staff, and said she was directly involved in delivering city services to residents. Abarca is also running for the seat in the February 2023 election.
Abarca is the fourth City Council member that Mayor Lori Lightfoot has appointed to the body in the past year as members have left for other jobs, early retirement and, in one case, prison.
Near South high school funding
City Council approved using $8 million from a special taxing district to purchase Chicago Housing Authority land to build a new high school on the Near South Side.
Plans for the new high school have been controversial. There are several under-enrolled high schools in the area and the land for the new school was to be used for public housing, though Chicago Housing Authority says it will build the promised housing nearby. State Rep. Theresa Mah, who previously supported the project, vowed to block $50 million in state funds until community concerns are taken into account. Five aldermen voted against the proposal.
Claudia Morell covers general assignments, government and transit issues for WBEZ. Mariah Woelfel and Tessa Weinberg cover Chicago politics.