Here's a Poll Question: Why Not Extend the Red Line?

The results of a new poll by the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents most CTA workers, are no big surprise: Chicagoans say they want better mass transit. According to the Tribune:

Eighty-two percent of likely voters who participated in the poll responded that the availability of good mass transit is an “important concern” that Chicago’s next mayor “should address immediately upon taking office.”

Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of those polled agreed to some extent or a lot that transit operating funds from the federal government should be restored to large cities, following the phasing out of operating assistance in the 1990s, and that transit cutbacks tend to hurt students and lower-income people the most, followed by businesses.

Among all likely voters, 65 percent agreed with the following statement: “If a candidate for mayor took a very strong stand — not only to protect bus and rail service in the city — but to start working toward improving it, that would be a very good reason to consider supporting that candidate.”

If a pollster asked voters whether they wanted more police, cleaner beaches, bigger libraries or freer love, he’d probably get the same answers. Here’s a better transit-related question for the mayoral candidates: will you support completing the L system? Specifically, will you advocate for the funding to extend the Red Line to 130th, with a terminal near the Altgeld Gardens housing project?

Right now, the Red Line ends at 95-th Street, nearly five miles from Altgeld Gardens, a “transit desert” where half the residents don’t have jobs, or cars that could get them to jobs. These people live inside the city limits, but a bus-and-train trip downtown takes nearly two hours. If the Red Line comes their way, they could get to the Loop in 39 minutes. It would also reduce traffic on the Bishop Ford Freeway by an estimated 20 percent. And, it would bring commerce to an area where residents complain they have to pay $5 for a bag of sugar.

The new tracks would run alongside the existing Union Pacific Railroad, but this would still be an expensive project: $1.4 billion, with 80 percent paid by the federal government, and 20 percent by the state. That’s a lot of money for these times, but bringing the L to the poorest neighborhoods of the Far South Side would fulfill a campaign promise every candidate is offering: to make Chicago one city.

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