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CTA Red Line reroute ‘smooth sailing’ so far during first rush hour commute

Stephanie Williams Doltrides Red Line trarunning Green Line tracks after riding an express shuttle bus from 87th Street statiGarfield Statiher

Stephanie Williams, of Dolton, rides a Red Line train running on the Green Line tracks after riding an express shuttle bus from the 87th Street station to the Garfield Station on her way to her Loop job Sunday morning. | Jessica Koscielniak~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 21, 2013 6:27AM

In 17 years of commuting on the Red Line South to her housekeeping job downtown, Stephanie Williams can count on one hand the number of times she has been late for work.

“I’m giving myself a whole bunch of grace time — I’m not a late person,” said Williams, 45, as she headed to work Sunday morning.

Even though she’s expecting the “big mess” to come Monday, Williams left her home in Dolton an hour earlier than normal just in case — to deal with the massive Red Line reconstruction project, which began Sunday and is expected to last five months.

The project, which means a total shutdown of the Red Line between Cermak and 95th Street, is expected to disrupt the commutes of about 80,000 South Side weekday L riders.

But for Williams, other than cutting short her sleep, the commute Sunday was “smooth sailing.”

She boarded one of the CTA’s special express shuttle buses near the 87th Street Red Line stop, where she usually boards the train. That bus took about 11 minutes to reach the Garfield Green Line station, where she caught a Red Line train riding on Green Line tracks to downtown. For much of the morning, the express shuttles appeared to be running on time from the 87th street Red Line stop and carrying anywhere from six to a dozen passengers.

Williams liked the fact that she didn’t have to pay for either the shuttle — which had only about a dozen passengers when she boarded at 7:30 a.m. — or the L train Sunday.

She also realized she had left home way too early. Her commute took her only about 10 minutes longer than normal.

She expected odd stares from her co-workers at the hotel where she works downtown.

“They’re gonna be like, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ ” Williams joked.

Although she’s not looking forward to what will likely be packed Green Line trains on Monday, she said the Red Line project is overdue.

“They’re doing the right thing,” Williams said. “The North Side has stops that are up to date. If you’re going to do the city, do it right.”

CTA officials were up with the birds Sunday to get the word out about the start of the “once-in-a-generation” project on the 10-mile stretch of the Red line, where train service had ground to a halt hours earlier. The $259 million reconstruction will update stations on the South Side and bring entirely new track from Cermak-Chinatown to 95th Street.

Commuters will rely on shuttle buses and alternate routes. And when it’s all over, officials say, the project will reduce commutes from 95th Street an estimated 20 minutes.

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, CTA President Forrest Claypool told reporters at a 7 a.m press conference at the Green Line’s Garfield stop, a critical part of the Red Line reroute.

“This is not a small temporary patch, here and there, like in years past. This is a complete rebuild,” he said.

In preparation for the closure, CTA hired 400 part-time bus drivers to run the shuttles. Of the $259 million, $82 million will be going to disadvantaged business enterprises, $55 million of which will go to African-American-owned business.

CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said in a prepared statement: “Day 1 has gone well and met our expectations. Our shuttles had normal operations and ridership was typical for what we’d expect on a Sunday.”

Red Line customers can plan alternative routes at

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