City plans $7.2B infrastructure overhaul

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced an ambitious plan to rebuild Chicago's infrastructure.

The $7.2 billion plan aims to fix everything from transit in Chicago to schools and parks, and create tens of thousands of jobs. The plan also includes expansion projects at O'Hare International Airport. Emanuel called on airlines to begin planning with the city to add a fourth and final runway.

Emanuel says the city's foundation is crumbling and has been neglected for decades. He said he believes if it doesn't happen, Chicago will not be able to compete with other big cities.

The plan includes building 20 new CTA stations and rebuilding 100 others. The mayor says sections of track are more than a century old.

Plus, there is an outline to build 20 new playgrounds and 12 new parks over the next five years.

He's vowing not to lease anything for the project or sell any of the city's assets to fund it.

The mayor's office estimated the public-private partnership will create as many as 30,000 jobs over the next three years.

The mayor made his announcement in front of those who will get the jobs -- union workers. The exact details of the plan were not released.

Emanuel's pitch is in part based on projects he has previously introduced, although, in a sit down interview with ABC7, he gave a couple examples of new projects.

"We will repave 2,000 of the 4,000 miles in the city," Emanuel told ABC 7. "That's half the city that will be totally repaved."

Earlier this month, Mayor Emanuel announced an infrastructure trust, which relies on money from banks and investing institutions for city projects. Some of the money will come from that trust. Other funds will come from cost cutting, but none will come from an increase in taxes, the mayor's office said. The mayor gave details at the Chicagoland Laborers Training and Apprentice Center on the Northwest Side Thursday morning.

"Whether it's renewing our parks or repairing our pipes, repaving our roads or rebuilding our rails, retrofitting our buildings, or revitalizing our bridges, we must restore Chicago's core strength," Emanuel said. "So today, I'm unveiling a comprehensive initiative for the city's future. Simply put, this is a plan for building a new Chicago."

The Civic Federation says the mayor's plan lacks the detail of exactly how each project will be funded. The mayor would only say several times the funding is secure, except for his desire to build a fourth runway at O'Hare. With cash strapped airlines, that could be the mayor's biggest challenge.

"We want to make sure we're not double counting the efficiencies in reduction that can be used through the operating budget , but the city of Chicago has clear infrastructure needs and those go forward even when you're facing an operating challenge," said Lawrence Msall of the Civic Federation.

The mayor would only say several times the funding is secure, except for his desire to build a fourth runway at O'Hare. With cash strapped airlines, that could be the mayor's biggest challenge.

"This is the beginning process," he said. "You don't wake up one morning before the deadline. You start today."

The mayor said his goal in two years is to reduce delays at O'Hare by 80 percent and raise the airport's capacity by 300,000 passengers.

When asked if they are willing to work with mayor to build a fourth runway, United Airlines only said, "we will continue to work with the city on demand-driven projects." American Airlines said it cannot make any commitments going forward because of Chapter 11 proceedings.

Several city aldermen say they have not seen the full details of the mayor's plan, but they agree with the general concept. A lot of it is still subject to their approval. But many of them want more information before signing off on a massive plan.

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