Chicago, Illinois/Ravenswood Line Expansion

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Ravenswood Line Expansion

Chicago, Illinois

(November 2000)


The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is proposing to lengthen existing platforms and expand stations on the existing Ravenswood (Brown) Line to accommodate eight-car trains. The Brown Line extends 9.3 miles from the north side of Chicago to the “Loop elevated” in downtown Chicago and includes 19 stations. The majority of the Brown Line is operated on an elevated structure (8.1 miles) except for a portion near the northern end of the line, which operates at-grade (1.2 miles). The Brown Line was built between 1900 and 1907. The line currently carries approximately 104,000 average weekday boardings. However, current station and platform size prohibits CTA from increasing capacity on the line to handle increased demand. The proposed project would expand stations and platforms and straighten curves to allow CTA to operate longer trains, which would increase the capacity of the line. Other related capital improvements would also be undertaken. Total capital costs are currently estimated at $327 million (escalated dollars).

Ravenswood Line Expansion Summary Description

Proposed Project Capacity expansion of existing heavy rail line and related capital improvements;
9.3 miles, 19 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $327.00 million
Section 5309 New Starts Share ($YOE) $245.50 million
Annual Operating Cost ($1997) $2.40 million decrease from current Ravenswood Line operating expenses
Ridership Forecast (2020) 12,100 daily new riders
FY 2002 Financial Rating: Medium
FY 2002 Project Justification Rating: High
FY 2002 Overall Project Rating: Recommended

The Recommended rating is based on the project’s strong cost effectiveness, transit-supportive land use conditions and the adequacy of the capital and operating plans. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 2000. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As New Starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions and refined financing plans.


In November 1997, the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) – local Metropolitan Planning Organization – included the Ravenswood Line Expansion project in the region’s financially constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan. CATS subsequently included the project in the region’s financially constrained Transportation Improvement Program in January 1999. CTA is currently completing an examination of the environmental impacts and benefits related to the proposed project. CTA is currently addressing an historical preservation issue associated with one of the stations that are scheduled for rehabilitation along the Ravenswood Line. The environmental review process is scheduled for completion in 2001.

Section 3030(a)(11) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) authorizes the “Ravenswood Line Extension [CTA]” for final design and construction. Through FY 2001, Congress has appropriated $4.92 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. With FTA’s concurrence, CTA did not provide information on a TSM alternative for comparison to the New Starts project.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The High justification rating reflects the project’s overall performance in terms of mobility improvements, environmental benefits, cost effectiveness, and transit supportive land use.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium-High

The Ravenswood Line currently carries approximately 104,000 average weekday boardings. CTA estimates 12,100 daily new riders on the Ravenswood Line in 2020. CTA estimates the following travel time savings for the New Start versus the No-Build alternative.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 2.70 million hours N/A

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 11,544 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of Ravenswood Line stations. This represents 13 percent of the total number of households within a ½ mile radius of the Ravenswood Line.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

Northeastern Illinois (which includes the Chicago metropolitan area) is classified as being in “severe” non-attainment for ozone. The region is in attainment for carbon monoxide and particulate matter (PM10). CTA estimates that in the year 2020, the proposed project will result in the following emissions reductions:

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) reduction of 270 annual tons N/A
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) reduction of 61 annual tons N/A
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) reduction of 34 annual tons N/A
Particulate Matter (PM10) No Change N/A
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) reduction of 18,911 annual tons N/A

CTA estimates that the proposed project will result in the following decreases in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTUs):

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (million) reduction of 235,320 million BTU N/A

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

CTA estimates the following systemwide operating costs per passenger mile in the year 2020 for the New Start and No-Build alternatives:

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) $0.21 N/A $0.20

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: High

CTA estimates the following cost effectiveness index for the Ravenswood Line Expansion project:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $3.50 N/A

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: High

The High land use rating reflects the high employment levels and strong transit-accessible environment that characterizes the Ravenswood corridor.

Existing Conditions: The Ravenswood (Brown Line) line has been in operation for nearly 100 years, and serves neighborhoods that originally developed around the transit system. Since 1979, Brown Line ridership has increased by 36 percent. On a typical weekday, the Brown Line carries approximately 104,000 riders. The corridor contains an estimated 89,000 jobs and 194,000 residents within a ½ mile radius of stations (not including the CBD). Densities are very high, averaging 11,400 jobs per square mile and 24,900 persons per square mile. The line serves a large, dense CBD with an estimated 339,000 jobs. Other major trip generators in the corridor include DePaul University (18,000 students) and three major hospitals. Existing development along the entire line is highly urban in character. Mixed commercial, retail, and residential development on arterials – generally two to four stories in height in the inner portion of the corridor – is surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods characterized by multi-family and densely packed single-family housing. The inner stations along the Brown Line also serve some high-rise apartment buildings and specialty retail districts near the Lake Michigan waterfront.

Existing Chicago zoning ordinances permit transit-supportive commercial and residential densities in the corridor. Commercial districts generally permit floor-to-area ratios of up to 2.2. Most residential districts permit both single family and multi-family uses with a minimum lot size of 900 square feet per dwelling unit – e.g., maximum of 48 units per acre net of public rights-of-way.

Future Plans and Policies: CTA, along with the State of Illinois, is engaged in the promotion and support of transit-oriented development principles and activities as well as regional growth management strategies. The City of Chicago also has a number of policies and programs to support urban redevelopment and transit-supportive development. The city has designated a number of tax increment financing (TIF) districts to finance improvements in dilapidated areas and stimulate reinvestment. There are a number of TIF districts in proximity to existing Ravenswood Line stations. In addition, the city has created an Industrial Corridors Program to plan and implement improvements to Chicago’s 22 industrial corridors to increase the area’s competitiveness. One of these corridors is adjacent to three existing Ravenswood Line stations. In addition, the Metropolitan Planning Council, a non-profit, non-partisan group of business and civic leaders, is leading a “Campaign for Sensible Growth,” to promote economic and community development in established urban neighborhoods.

Other Factors

Enterprise Zone: The Ravenswood Line has two stations adjacent to a State-designated Enterprise Zone. Enterprise Zone benefits include various tax exemptions, reductions, and credits for firms locating in the zone. In addition, redevelopment of the Cabrini-Green public housing project – located within the proximity of the Brown Line – north of downtown Chicago - is underway. The 100-acre, $1 billion project has completed a new library, commercial development, parks and the first phase of new mixed-income housing.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 New Starts Share of Total Project Costs: 25%

The financial strategy for the proposed Ravenswood Line Expansion project includes $245.5 million (75 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funds, $13.2 million (4 percent in Section 5309 Rail Modernization funds, $34.1 million (10 percent) in Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) bond funds and $34.1 million (10 percent) in Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of Northeastern Illinois bond funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the sound financial condition of CTA and the agency’s dedicated revenue sources. The rating also acknowledges the commitment of the RTA and IDOT to provide funding for the local match for the Ravenswood Line Expansion project. The rating also reflects the absence of a project-specific capital plan.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The CTA, RTA, and the State of Illinois are considered to be in sound financial condition. The CTA receives funding for both capital and operating expenses from the RTA.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital costs estimates for the project are considered reasonable. However, the agency did not provide FTA with a project-specific capital plan, including definitive documentation to evaluate escalation rates or provisions to address unanticipated cost overruns or funding shortfalls. In response to an FTA request to resolve cost estimation discrepancies, CTA is also refining the capital cost estimates for the Ravenswood Line Expansion project.

Existing and Committed Funding: All non-Section 5309 New Starts funding is considered committed to the project. IDOT and the RTA are scheduled to contribute a total of approximately $68.3 million in funding for capital costs associated with the project from Series B Transportation bond revenues authorized in recent legislation and proceeds from the State-supported Strategic Capital Improvement Program (SCIP). An additional $13.25 million in Section 5309 rail modernization funds have also been programmed to the project. It should also be noted that the construction schedule for the project exceeds the lifespan of CTA’s current Capital Improvement Program. An additional capital funding commitment will be needed by 2004.

New and Proposed Sources: No new sources are proposed for the Ravenswood Line Expansion project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the adequacy of existing operating revenues to continue operation of the Ravenswood Line. The rating also acknowledges the absence of an operating plan specific to the Ravenswood Line.

Agency Operating Condition: The operating condition of the CTA is sound. CTA receives funds for operations from the RTA, including revenue generated from RTA’s dedicated sales tax. Total operating and maintenance costs for the agency for FY 2000 are estimated at $841 million. Operating and maintenance costs for the agency’s rail system are projected at $80.7 million (9.6 percent). As of January 2000, CTA had an operating reserve fund of approximately $108 million.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: CTA did not provide definitive information on operating and maintenance costs or escalation rates and contingency factors specific to the Ravenswood Line.

Existing and Committed Funding: No project-specific operations and maintenance plan was submitted for the Ravenswood Line Expansion project. However, CTA’s analysis indicates that no additional operating funds would be necessary to operate the proposed improvements.

New and Proposed Sources: No new sources of operating funding are proposed for the Ravenswood Line Expansion project.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: §5309 New Starts $245.50 $4.92 million appropriated through FY 2001
Federal: §5309 Fixed Guideway Modernization $13.20 N/A
State: Illinois DOT Bonds $34.10 N/A
Local: RTA Bonds $34.10 N/A
Total: $327.00

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

Map of proposed lengthening of existing platforms and expansion of stations on the existing Ravenswood (Brown) Line that extends 9.3 miles from the north side of Chicago to the “Loop elevated” in downtown Chicago and includes 19 stations.