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Emanuel Announces $7 Billion Infrastructure Program

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces plans for a new building mission for Malcolm X College on the Near West Side. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 03/29/12 – 4:17 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he wants to “build a new Chicago,” with a $7.2 billion infrastructure upgrade program that would bring 30,000 jobs over the next three years.

As CBS 2’ws Susanna Song reports, the mayor announced plans for the “Building a New Chicago” program at the Chicagoland Laborers’ Training and Apprentice Center, 1900 N. Central Ave.

The plan would invest billions to fix up everything from CTA stations to O’Hare International Airport to the city’s parks and put an estimated 30,000 people to work.

“By neglecting to invest in our infrastructure for nearly four decades, we have allowed Chicago’s foundations to decay and our strengths to decline,” Mayor Emanuel said. “We know that as long as our city rests on a 20th century foundation, we won’t be able to compete in a 21st century economy.”

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine sat down with the Mayor to talk about the plan and how we can afford it. Emanuel said the city has no choice, because its infrastructure is crumbling after decades of neglect, and he insisted financing has been lined up for the ambitious project.

“Everything we talked about – except for the fourth runway – is fully paid for, and we have the funds. We’ve identified them, secured them, locked them down, have letters of agreement on them; so we can put 30,000 people to work creating and building a new Chicago,” Emanuel said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports


The need for the new jobs was illustrated at the Laborers Union training center, where city officials, labor leaders, and members of the administration far outnumbered a current class of barely 100 apprentices, limited by the lack of jobs.

While many in organized labor had been skeptical about the new mayor, both before and after his election, their leaders applauded him on Thursday.

“There are issues out there, and the issues range the entire spectrum; and what he’s done here today is handle an issue that we think has been long overdue – and that’s Chicago’s aching infrastructure,” Chicago Federation of Labor president Jorge Ramirez said. “Some of the natural disagreements that he’s got with some of the unions, those things have to be worked out at the table. I think they’re trying to do that now.”

Emanuel said, “I have a lot of respect for Jorge Ramirez. … He is as clear about his goals as I am about mine. And he’s as clear about trying to figure out how to get to a yes as I am about how to get to a yes. And when you have that attitude, you get a lot done.”

Much of Thursday’s “Building A New Chicago” game plan had been announced separately before – such as the mayor’s goal of building dozens of new parks and playgrounds, renovating 100 CTA stations, replacing 900 miles of water and sewer lines, and spending $1 billion dollars for schools and city colleges.

Only his commitment to another new runway at O’Hare and his approach to the airlines about paying for it were new.

“The fourth runway is in Chicago’s interest and their interest,” Emanuel said. As for who will pay for it, the mayor said, “That’s where we’re going to begin to work.”

The Mayor praised his predecessor, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, for initiating the $15 billion O’Hare Modernization Program, but also took a shot at Daley and others – although not by name – for, in Emanuel’s words, neglecting to invest in Chicago’s infrastructure for nearly four decades.

Investing now, he portrayed as “win-win” scenario; creating jobs and brightening the city’s future.

The mayor promised the plan will not be funded through any tax increases. He says it will all be paid for by a combination of funds from cost-cutting, and the newly-created Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which the mayor announced this month with former President Bill Clinton.

The fund will pool private investment for numerous projects.

The mayor’s plan calls for upgrades to every facet of the city’s infrastructure.

Under the plan, 100 Chicago Transit Authority subway and ‘L’ stations will be renovated or rebuilt.

The focus is on the Red Line, where discussions continue on how to upgrade the portion of the line that runs on an aging concrete embankment from Wilson Avenue and north all the way along the Purple Line in Evanston. But changes are planned across the system.

The plan also calls for 16 miles of bus rapid transit along Jeffery Boulevard on the city’s South Side, with future routes planned for the central Loop. Upgrades to roads are also planned.

In addition, the plan calls for building two new runways at O’Hare International Airport by 2015. To that end, the mayor is renewing pressure on the major airlines over expansion at O’Hare.

He says he wants to reduce delays at O’Hare by 80 percent and raise capacity by some 300,000 passengers in the coming three years. The $1.4 billion investment at O’Hare would create 5,900 jobs, according to the Mayor’s office.

Mayor Emanuel’s plan also calls for acquiring 180 acres for parkland, and 20 new playgrounds and 12 parks. Further, the Bloomingdale Trail — a planned linear park along the elevated Bloomingdale Line railroad embankment in the Humboldt Park and Bucktown neighborhoods — would be finished by 2014 under the plan.

New boathouses are also planned along the Chicago River — two this year and two next year.

The mayor is also calling for the replacement or repair of 900 miles of water delivery pipes – which he has said had 3,800 leaks last year – as well as 750 miles of sewer line. The mayor’s plan also calls for modernizing the city’s two water filtration plants – the Jardine plant at 1000 E. Ohio St. just north of Navy Pier, and the South Water Plant, at 3300 E. Cheltenham Pl. near Rainbow Beach on the South Side.

A total of $660 million in upgrades to schools are also planned, including the rebuilding of labs and gyms, the replacement of old roofs and windows, and the construction of tech-ready classrooms. Also planned is a $479 million investment in the City Colleges of Chicago, for improved and more modern educational environments.

The plan also calls for $225 million directed toward retrofitting city buildings in a program called “Retrofit Chicago,” with the goal of reducing their energy consumption by 25 percent over the next three years. The Mayor’s office says the project will create 900 jobs.

Under the plan, the Aldermanic Menu and tax increment financing programs, which fund infrastructure upgrades and development in city neighborhoods, would be revised so as to suit current infrastructure needs.

The plan also calls for a 25 percent reduction in energy use over the next three years.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports all the projects have been announced previously, but city officials say they will now be part of a comprehensive, better-coordinated, and better-enhanced effort.

In announcing the plan, the mayor evoked the memory of the city rebuilding from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Within a decade, Chicago hosted the 1880 Republican National Convention, which was such a success that both parties hosted their conventions in Chicago in 1884. And by 1893, the world had convened on Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition.

By the turn of the last century, Chicago was the world’s fifth largest city, and the envy of the world for its architecture, Mayor Emanuel said.

“The resolve of that generation to rebuild the city they loved, their grit, their guts, is important for us today,” Emanuel said.

With the city’s infrastructure now in such a state of decay, Mayor Emanuel said Chicago is now at a similar crossroads.

“What we do in the next two to three years will determine what Chicago will look like in the next 30 years,” he said.

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