Red Line’s ‘big fix’ officially begins with promise of faster commute
BY ROSALIND ROSSI AND MATT MCKINNEY Staff Reporters May 18, 2013 10:29AM
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Updated: June 20, 2013 6:42AM
The “big fix’’ of the Red Line South officially kicked off early Sunday, and the construction work is expected to disrupt the weekday commutes of more than 80,000 South Side weekday L riders.
Chicago Transit Authority officials were up early Sunday to remind riders about the project.
“Our goal was to create an unprecedented level of awareness throughout the community. We believe we’ve achieved that goal,” CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson said at a 7 a.m. news conference at the Green Line’s Garfield station, a critical part of the Red Line reroute.
The 44-year-old Red line had become so deteriorated in parts it was “unsafe” to run trains more than 15 m.p.h. in those stretches, according to CTA President Forrest Claypool.
“This is not a small temporary patch, here and there, like in years past. This is a complete rebuild,” Claypool told reporters at the press conference.
Will the five-month, total shutdown — from Cermak to 95th Street — be painful?
Probably, experts say.
Will it be worth it?
By its Oct. 19 conclusion, one of the biggest reconstruction projects in CTA history should eliminate the branch’s notorious slow zones — the worst in the system — and deliver commuters a faster, smoother ride, plus a host of station improvements.
The project should also shave 10 minutes from the current 30- to 40-minute commute from 95th to downtown.
“This is the big fix,’’ said Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. “What would otherwise be many years of work will be squeezed into one construction season. ...
“This is painful for the South Side, but it’s it going to have a big payoff.’’
At nearly 44 years old, the Red Line branch that shoots down the middle of the Dan Ryan Expy. has exceeded its 40-year life expectancy and needs to be ripped out from the dirt up, CTA officials say. The critical work needed on its foundation makes the piecemeal approach used to repair other lines with less severe problems less viable, they contend.
The CTA estimates it will save $75 million by doing the 10.2 miles of work during one five-month, $425-million shutdown instead of stretching it out over four years of weekend repairs.
Re-routed travelers must now navigate a host of free bus shuttles, free L boardings, discounted bus options and special fare packages.
You can survive the Red Line South reconstruction. And to help you along, here are some tips on navigating the adventure ahead.
To soften the sting of five months of inconvenience, the CTA is offering a $7.3 million basket of free and discounted rides.
“Load-and-go” free express shuttles will take commuters from each of the four southernmost Red Line Stations – 95th, 87th, 79th and 69th streets — directly to the Green Line’s Garfield Station.
At that station, all rides will be free for five months, even to those not re-routed by Red Line work. Both Red and Green line trains will run on Green Line tracks out of Garfield.
Some community groups are concerned about the impending onslaught at the Garfield Green Line station. The CTA has installed 17 free turnstiles to accommodate what is expected to be a jump in ridership — from 1,300 daily to 13,000. More cameras and more manpower are promised.
The plus side: Red Line rider Stephanie Williams, 45, figures that using a free 87th Street shuttle to a free L ride downtown from the Garfield Station will mean her ride to work will suddenly be free. Over five months, that should save her about $240.
“That’s wonderful. Seriously,’’ Williams said. “I need every dollar.’’
Another free express shuttle will operate on extended hours between the Red Line’s Cermak and Roosevelt stations.
A free “local” shuttle will hit each station between 63rd and 95th, and add on the Garfield Station as a stop between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. during special local “owl” service.
Some Red Line riders may even find their new commute is faster, CTA officials say. Parts or all of three dozen bus routes running on either side of the construction south of 63rd will operate more frequently – and at a 50-cent discount.
It’s a tempting alternative to some commuters who are fearful of shuttle buses getting caught in Dan Ryan traffic as they barrel along to the Garfield Green Line station and back.
To avoid a possible shuttle bus crunch at her usual 87th Street Red Line station, Deandre Blunt, 27, hopes to take a discounted bus east and a discounted Jeffrey Jump express bus north.
“I have to be at work at 9 a.m.,’’ said Blunt. “The No. 14 Jeffrey will be faster than a shuttle.’’
Metra and Pace are not discounting their fares, but they joined the CTA in providing special five-day Metra-CTA or Metra-CTA-Pace packages that can be purchased at 12 CTA retail outlets. The packages are available for use on Metra’s Electric or Rock Island lines.
Metra’s cushier, quieter rides are more expensive than the L, but the CTA part of the package is a deal.
The special unlimited five-day CTA pass in the package is only about $2 more than the current CTA three-day pass when riders bundle it with a Metra B- or C-zone 10-ride ticket.
The package, including the unlimited five-day CTA pass, is $52 with a 10-ride Metra B-zone ticket; $64 with a C-zone ticket and $74 with a D-zone ticket. Only the D-zone ticket also includes a five-day Pace pass.
Jerry Hutch, 66, a security guard, says he’s considering using the Metra or the Illinois Central to avoid what he says could be mayhem on shuttle buses and at the Garfield station.
As far as the free shuttle-L option, “I want nothing to do with it,’’ Hutch said. “In the summer? When you have a bunch of activities? Please.’’
Some experts say Dan Ryan drivers may see an impact from the Red Line construction, even though they don’t use the Red Line. That’s because some Red Line riders may avoid public transportation all together and drive instead.
“You’ll see more people driving the Dan Ryan because the Red Line is shut down,’’ said Joseph Schofer, a professor of civil engineering and transportation at Northwestern University. “You’ll have spillover traffic on side streets.”
Plus, shuttle buses from the 95th, 87th and 79th Street Red Line stations will be riding down the Ryan, going to and from the Garfield Green Line station. However, CTA officials say the 40 to 50 shuttle buses an hour during peak rush periods should have a “very minimal impact” on the 250,000 daily weekday vehicles on the Ryan.
Another big unknown: Will workmen reconstructing a rail line in the middle of the Dan Ryan cause gapers’ blocks?
One guarantee, however, is that late-night Ryan drivers will face overnight lane closures along the construction area from 31st to 95th.
Commuters may feel challenged initially, but within days they should settle into a pattern that will allow them to survive “the big fix,’’ experts say.
‘’For the most part, people find ways to get on with their lives and the pain is less than what they expect,’’ Schwieterman said.
“It’s never the Armageddon that people dream up.’’