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Infrastructure trust and Red Line extension

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Mayor Emanuel’s proposed infrastructure trust will be discussed at a community meeting on the Red Line extension in Roseland on Thursday.

Representatives of Grassroots Collaborative, the NAACP, AFSCME and other groups have been invited for a panel on “threats and opportunities” related to the infrastructure fund at the quarterly meeting of the Red Line Oversight Committee of the Developing Communities Project [2], said organizer John Paul Jones.

The meeting takes place at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 19 at Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th Street.

DCP has been pushing since 2003 to extend rapid transit service to the city’s last unserved area.  After being on hold for decades, the project was approved by the CTA in 2009.

The project — which would extend the Red Line from 95th to 130th Street and add four new stations — is proceeding steadily, Jones said, with an environmental impact study and public outreach now underway.  Consultants conducting the environmental study are expected to report tomorrow.

Earlier this year the CTA hired Goldman Sachs, Loop Capital, and Estrada Hinojosa to serve as financial advisers for the modernization and extension of the Red Line.  Jones said it’s possible the infrastructure trust, if passed, could also come into play.

DCP executive director Gwen Rice said the group wants to weigh the benefits of public-private financing and make sure the community is at the table when decisions are made.  One of the group’s priorities is making sure that work on the extension goes to local residents, she said.

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When the infrastructure trust was first announced on February 29, the city’s chief financial officer Lois Scott created a small stir [3] by saying private financing for the Red Line extension could be paid for with distance-based fares.

In her new blog for the Center for Neighborhood Technology [4], CTA vice chair Jackie Grimshaw rejects the idea.

“I don’t think distance-based fares are the right way to help pay for transit improvements,” Grimshaw writes [5]. “It strikes me as unfair to make the poorest residents pay more to travel than wealthier people who live closer to downtown.

“We should not punish those who have been forced farther out of the city’s central core by rising real estate prices with increased transportation costs, especially when they have been denied the good transit access that many of us have enjoyed for so long.”

In other posts, Grimshaw recalls [6] that Mayor Emanuel promised to make the Red Line extension “his top priority” during last year’s campaign.  She calls the extension “a ticket out of poverty for many on the Far South Side” who have “very low access to jobs.”

She discusses [7] the ambitious expansion of mass transit now underway in Los Angeles, cited by Emanuel as an inspiration.  The huge project is financed by federal loans and long-term bonds paid for by a small sales tax increase.

Chicago has the nation’s highest sales tax, but broadening its base to include services could raise significant revenue while allowing a reduction in the rate, Grimshaw points out [8].

(In 2010 the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability [9] evaluated proposals to expand the state’s sales tax base and found they could raise $500 million to $2 billion a year.)

That could allow the state to “create a dedicated revenue stream to invest in capital projects that would fill existing transit gaps,” Grimshaw writes.