Red Line Extension Gets a Path, But Will It Go Anywhere?

The City of Chicago has announced the route it wants the CTA’s Red Line to take when work begins on its southern extension.

Map of the proposed CTA Red Line southern extension (via CTA)

Map of the proposed CTA Red Line southern extension (via CTA)

The project has been the dream of commuters, and the campaign promise of many a politician for decades.  While it’s possible to take a subway to the northern, eastern, and western extremities of Chicago, the far south side has been relegated to bus service.

At a news conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a route from 95th to 130th Streets that will run largely alongside the existing Union Pacific freight tracks.  It’s expected to cost $2.3 billion.  The CTA is going to ask the federal government for help with the money.  The same federal government led by the man publicly vilified by virtually every politician in Chicago.  Good luck with that.

The CTA still has years of environmental reports, public meetings, and other rigamarole ahead of it, so perhaps it won’t go to Washington with its hand out until after the next election.

That is, if it happens at all.  Color us skeptical, but we’ve been to this rodeo before.  Since the first train rolled into the 95th Street station, people have been asking, “What about the rest of the south side?”  And City Hall has been saying, “It’s coming.”  If you’re the sort of person who believes past performance is indicative of future results, it’s easy to give it a big Taylor Swift “Yeah, right.”  Then again, Hizzonor has dumped close to a billion dollars into the Red Line since taking office, so maybe as the Cubs fans say, “This is the year.”

More details in the press release below.


Expanded rail service to the Far South Side of Chicago will improve access to jobs and opportunity, promote economic development

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) today announced that the agency has selected a preferred alignment for the Red Line Extension (RLE)—a project that will extend the Red Line to 130th Street from 95th Street. The RLE project will provide new access to rail service for Far South Side residents, connecting them to affordable housing, jobs, services and educational opportunities.

“Today we are taking a major step towards extending the Red Line to 130th Street and delivering the jobs and economic opportunities that go with it,” Mayor Emanuel said. “By extending the Red Line south we are strengthening Chicagoans’ connections to each other, to opportunity and to the world.”

The proposed 5.3-mile extension would include four new stations near 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue and 130th Street. Each of the new stations would include bus and parking facilities. The project is expected to create an estimated 6,200 jobs.

After taking into consideration extensive public feedback, technical analysis and other factors, the CTA selected a route for the RLE project that would:

  • Begin the extension at 95th Street and run along the west side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks from I-57 south to approximately 109th Street;
  • Cross the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and run along the east side of the tracks until crossing the Metra Electric tracks near 119th Street; and
  • Continue south to 130th Street.

“We are happy to introduce our preferred alignment for the Red Line Extension, a transformational project that will expand rail service to Chicago’s southernmost communities and create better access to jobs, education and opportunities,” CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. said. “We made this selection based on feedback from the community, and look forward to moving forward on this project.”

The preferred RLE alignment would provide all the benefits of new rail service for the area while minimizing the impact on local businesses and homes. The alignment is a hybrid of two previously considered alignments—the East and West Options, named for where they were located next to existing freight railroad tracks—and offers the best of each while limiting the number of properties CTA must purchase to build the rail extension. The selected alignment also takes advantage of several large parcels of land that are currently vacant and will allow for economic development opportunities.

The project is a key part of Mayor Emanuel and CTA’s “Red Ahead” investment in its busiest rail line that includes the $425 million Red Line South Reconstruction that was completed in 2013 and the ongoing $280 million construction of a new 95th Street Terminal, which will be completed in 2018.

What’s next?

CTA will host a public open house on February 13, 2018 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy gymnasium (250 East 111th Street, Chicago, Illinois) to present the alignment to the community.

CTA will produce a final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) that will include further preliminary engineering work and will analyze impacts of the proposed alignment. This engineering work is required before CTA can apply for more than $1 billion in federal funds to support the RLE project, estimated to cost $2.3 billion.

CTA expects to apply to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for entry into the Project Development Phase of this project, a necessary step to pursue federal funding for the project under the competitive federal “New Starts” program. For more information on the Red Line Extension project, visit

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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