CTA to improve IMD el station; will build new Green Line facility
November 2, 2017

Courtesy CTA
New Illinois Medical District CTA Blue Line entrances will be wheelchair accessible and provide bicycle racks, too.

By Rick Romano

The Near West Side will receive a public transportation makeover and an addition, thanks to an emerging renovation and facelift of three Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Illinois Medical District el station entrances on the Blue Line as well as plans for a new Green Line el stop to serve the United Center and its surrounding neighborhood.

The work has generated both praise from local officials and concern from a financial watchdog about its funding.

IMD station

The planned $23 million Illinois Medical District Blue Line station at Ogden Avenue work, part of an overall $8 billion CTA infrastructure investment, includes a recently opened Damen Avenue auxiliary entrance. Work on the other auxiliary entrance at Paulina Street and the main stationhouse entrance at Ogden Avenue just began.

At Damen Avenue, workers have upgraded the entrance with additional lighting and security cameras as well as a reconstructed platform ramp, new flooring, and stainless steel wall finishes. A new CTA bus and train tracker displays real-time arrival information. Those same improvements are underway at the Paulina Street entrance.

Workers are rebuilding the Ogden Avenue main stationhouse entrance, including a new elevator and set of stairs as well as similar flooring and ceiling and wall finishes as at its two auxiliary entrances.

The IMD station opened 60 years ago. Its modernization brings a “welcome change,” said Suzet McKinney, executive director of the Illinois Medical District Commission.

“We see 80,000 people a day at all the institutions here,” McKinney said, referring to employees, students, and patients. “Many of them rely on public transportation, so the improvements will help them.

“The IMD is a busy location with four world-class hospitals and medical and allied health schools,” she said. “It also serves other organizations like the American Red Cross and the Chicago Center for Arts and Technology. Parking is not abundant, so public transportation has to be accessible.”

McKinney said the commission works closely with the CTA to provide information about the transportation improvements and the challenges of getting to and from the area during construction.

“We understand the situation from the point of view of a visitor or employee because going through the construction will be challenging,” McKinney said. “Access to this area is a key component to making the medical center and entire area an attractive place.”

Courtesy CTA
Upgrades will modernize the Ogden Avenue entrance at the Illinois Medical District Chicago Transit Authority station and make it more visible.

New Green Line stop

Officials expect design and engineering work to begin this year to fulfill plans to build a new Green Line station at Damen Avenue. The Office of the Mayor said the new station will fill a 1.5-mile gap between Green Line stations at California and Ashland Avenues to better serve the “growing business corridor and residential neighborhood.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the plan would “close the transit gap and provide local residents and business with the new station they have been asking for. The new station at Damen will fulfill a longstanding need for better options in the neighborhood and spur economic activity, improving quality of life for everyone who lives and works in the area.”

Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. of the 27th Ward, where the new station will be located, said he is happy about the decision and looks at the station as an opportunity for residents to travel to jobs and schools.

“I pushed for this for years,” Burnett said. “The access to the United Center is another one of the main reasons. That area gets congested with parking and even with Uber drivers lining the residential streets. It’s important to have another way other than driving to get to the United Center.”

Burnett thinks the new generation of millennials who do not necessarily like to drive will take advantage of the new public transportation access.

“It’s really a no brainer,” Burnett said. “It will pay for itself because it will bring new opportunities to the neighborhood.”

The new station is “a social justice issue,” he added, because “it gives people who live in the neighborhood and who do not have a vehicle an opportunity to get to jobs. We encourage folks to pull themselves up and go to work.”

Project leaders are funding the Blue Line multi-access station at the IMD through the Central West Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District. The Kinzie Industrial Corridor Tax Financing District will fund the new Green Line Station.

TIF money

Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, explained that TIFs allocate a portion of property tax growth within a designated area toward formal redevelopment plans approved by the Community Development Commission and City Council. They generate funds by growth in the equalized assessed valuation of properties within the district over a period of 23 years.

That financing method does not sit well with Tom Tresser, a civic educator, public defender, and community activist who has published a book of short articles by various authors entitled Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding The City We Deserve. The book states the City does not have to rely on tools like TIFs to fund projects.

“I’m against TIF funding generally,” Tresser said. “It takes money out of the system for things like schools. I’m all for mass transit, but I think that should be done through other means like general obligation bonds.”

He characterizes TIFs as a slush fund.

“It’s faster and super available for the mayor and that’s why he loves it,” Tresser said.

When questioned why the City prefers to use TIFs to fund the el stations, Strazzabosco said, “Under Mayor Emanuel, approximately 70% of all TIF expenditures have been used to support transit, infrastructure, schools, parks and open spaces, public facilities, and related infrastructure projects.”

He said 15% of TIFs have funded small business development projects, 9% have supported affordable housing, with the remainder going toward large neighborhood economic development projects.

“For transit projects specifically, TIF is the preferred funding mechanism given the lack of state and federal funds,” Strazzabosco said.

He added that other TIF-assisted transit station projects are generating “hundreds of millions
in additional investments on nearby land.”