Two high-priority CTA projects that lack money for construction — the overhauls of the Red Line north branch and Purple Line and a planned bus rapid transit corridor along Ashland Avenue — are on a national list of mass-transit initiatives that the Obama administration on Wednesday recommended for funding.
Both are long-range projects that the CTA plans to undertake in phases, officials said, adding it is premature to set construction dates.
It’s also unclear whether the White House’s funding proposals will clear Congress.
The Red-Purple Line modernization of elevated tracks and stations, from south of Belmont extending north through Evanston and to Wilmette, was the only project in the U.S. so far to make the “core capacity’’ list, which reserves funding to help big cities renew heavily used transit systems.
The U.S. Department of Transportation did not designate a specific funding level for the CTA Red-Purple Line reconstruction, whose cost estimates run in the billions of dollars. The department recommended spending a total of $275 million in fiscal 2015 on all eligible core capacity projects.
“We do expect there will be other projects,’’ Therese McMillan, deputy administrator at the Federal Transit Administration, said via phone from Washington.
The 9.6-mile Red-Purple project is currently estimated to cost $4.7 billion, according to the Federal Transit Administration funding recommendations released Wednesday. The CTA has estimated the project would cost between $2 billion and $4 billion, depending on design options still under consideration.
The CTA expects to seek $1.5 billion from the core capacity program, according to documents released Wednesday. More funding could be sought later from different pots of federal money, officials said.
The transit agency has spent about $5 million to date working on environmental studies that are necessary for design and before construction, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said. The goal of the overhaul is to increase capacity on the Red and Purple lines by 20 to 50 percent, reduce travel times, alleviate overcrowded station platforms and provide access for transit riders with disabilities, officials said.
Asked how soon construction could begin under a best-case scenario in which funding is secured, Steele said, “We could potentially be looking at starting work in 3 to 4 years.’’
The CTA must receive approval of a full-funding grant agreement before any federal money begins to flow, McMillan said. All the projects that the administration recommended Wednesday are expected to be ready for approval within the next year, she said.
The big question is whether Congress passes the administration’s budget.
The Federal Transit Administration recommended spending a total of $2.5 billion in fiscal 2015 on 26 rail, bus rapid transit and streetcar projects in 16 states.
The CTA’s proposed bus rapid transit corridor planned for Ashland Avenue got a boost by making a separate list of projects identified for future funding, beyond 2015.
The CTA project, which would be built in the center lane in each direction for 16 miles along Ashland between Irving Park Road and 95th Street, is estimated to cost $160 million. The CTA expects to seek $58.3 million from a different federal program.
The project includes a buses-only center lane, 14 bus stations spaced about a half-mile apart in the median of Ashland and the purchase of about 50 double-long buses customized with doors on both sides.
The first phase of the project would be built for the central part of Ashland, Cortland Avenue to 31st Street. The CTA estimates that bus speeds can be increased by about 80 percent on the corridor.
But the project has faced criticism from some businesses and residents who oppose plans to eliminate most left turns and make small cuts in parking and loading zones.
The Emanuel administration originally set a goal of beginning construction in 2016, but city hall has recently backed off that commitment.
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