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L riders brace for more challenges: heavy snow and more commuters

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Updated: April 6, 2013 6:13AM



CTA L riders caught a break Tuesday: The worst of the snow doesn’t appear likely to make the morning rush any worse than Monday’s commute, the first day of rush-hour Wells Street Bridge work.

But that doesn’t mean commuters aren’t still anxious about the ride home, with the prospect of heavy snow joining an increase in travelers.

Brown and Purple Line riders rerouted by reconstruction of the 90-year-old bridge called the commutes Monday and Tuesday everything from “flawless” and nearly-normal, to “horrible,’’ crowded and confusing.

Others were more concerned about the Tuesday evening rush, when weather reports predict up to 8 inches of snow, and thousands of city and county workers will be back at work after the Pulaski Day holiday.

Matt Purist, who works in the Loop and commutes from the Armitage stop, avoided the reroutes Monday by taking the Red Line but decided to try out the Brown Line on Tuesday.

“Not good,” he said. It’s just taking forever. The trains were delayed 12 minutes.”

Arla Unwin, 54, a human resources technology executive, said on Monday her first attempt at maneuvering around the Wells Street Bridge L shutdown added 20 minutes to her morning commute and 45 to her evening trip.

Without the Purple Line express train, she had to take three trains home, all of which were “very crowded,’’ she said. The morning ride, at least, wasn’t “too terrible,’’ Unwin said. But she was concerned about the commute Tuesday, with more riders and heavy snow.

The street level of the double-decker Wells Street Bridge has been closed to car and pedestrian traffic since Nov. 5, but as of 10 p.m. Friday, the top deck traveled by L trains has been off-limits, too.

Over the weekend, observers gathered along the Chicago River to watch workers cut apart the south half of the bridge with blow torches, drop it onto a barge and float it away.

“I couldn’t get here fast enough. I think it’s amazing,’’ said Dan Hogan, 60, who spent most of the weekend photographing the demolition for fun — and then came back Monday for more. “Engineering-wise, it’s super-fantastic.”

The bridge should reopen to rail traffic on Monday, March 11. But another nine-day shutdown will start April 26, when the second half of the bridge will be replaced.

Just before Monday’s commute home started, one spokeswoman said the CTA was receiving both “positive and negative feedback” but couldn’t say how much of either. The agency’s Customer Service Department was mostly fielding questions about “service details,’’ she said.

The reconstruction shut down all Purple Line express trains, and turned the Merchandise Mart into the final stop of one of every three southbound Brown Line trains. Remaining Brown Line trains were supposed to switch to Red Line tracks after Fullerton and make Red Line stops, but only up to Roosevelt.

Meaghan Divane, 25, found her first attempt to survive the bridge work “confusing” and delay-ridden.

“It was horrible,” she said. “I had to wait for three trains to pass before I could get on a Brown Lane train that would get me here. It was a pain.”

Nicole Dejanovich said her Monday morning commute was “mass confusion.’’ She wound up on a Brown Line train with Orange Line signs that traveled on Red Line tracks and she had to change trains twice.

“The people on the platform who represent the CTA, they were trying to defuse confusion,” but they were totally overwhelmed, Dejanovich said.

Others said CTA platform workers were helpful, and they were grateful that fliers about the shutdown were handed out last week.

Susan Gerbosi, 44, followed the CTA’s advice and got up a half-hour earlier Monday so she could be at the Fullerton Brown Line station by 7 a.m. Fifteen seconds after she hit the platform, a Red Line train pulled up.

The ride? “Flawless, smooth. It also wasn’t very crowded at that time of the morning,’’ Gerbosi said.

Jeremy Rosen, 22, didn’t wake up any earlier to jump on the Brown Line and ended up only five minutes late to work.

“It wasn’t bad,’’ Rosen said.

While the bridge reconstruction snarled the commute for some, others found it scintillating.

Sheryl Handley, 53, traveled from Downers Grove with her husband Monday to watch the demolition and rebuilding of the bridge over the Chicago River.

“It’s pretty cool,’’ said Handley as she stood one bridge to the west. “We came all the way down to the city to see it. It’s historic. It’s something we’ve never seen before.’’

Through March 11, weekday commuters who want to connect with other Loop trains are encouraged to exit at the Chicago Avenue station and take a free shuttle bus to the Merchandise Mart (at LaSalle/Kinzie), Clark/Lake (at LaSalle/Lake) and Washington/Wells stations. Shuttle buses will operate between 4:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m.

Even drivers are affected by the weekday work. On southbound LaSalle, car lanes have been reduced to one lane between Chicago and Kinzie. Right turns from LaSalle onto Wacker are prohibited.

On the weekend, a total of five rail lines will be affected by additional work at one of the system’s busiest rail junctions, at Lake and Wells.

Weekend Brown Line service will terminate at Chicago/Franklin; Green/Pink Line service from the west will end at Clinton/Lake;

Orange Line service will terminate at Washington/Wells; and Green Line (63rd/Cottage/Ashland) trains from the south will end at Adams/Wabash. A free weekend shuttle will stop at Chicago/Franklin, Merchandise Mart (at LaSalle/Kinzie), Clark/Lake (at LaSalle/Lake), Washington/Wells and Clinton/Lake from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.



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