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Mary Mitchell: Fixing up 95th Street Station shows mayor gets it

An artist’s rendering shows proposed new spacious 95th Street Red Line statithat’s enclosed by glass filled with natural light.

An artist’s rendering shows a proposed new spacious 95th Street Red Line station that’s enclosed by glass and filled with natural light.

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Updated: July 25, 2012 6:44AM



Regular riders who catch the Red Line at the 95th Street Station know the drill.

During rush hours, buses roll up and frantic commuters jump out from every direction. Across the street, cars and jitneys let out passengers, often in the middle of the street. And let’s not even talk about the pedestrians who try to beat the traffic entering the Dan Ryan Expy.

Inside the station, commuters are herded like cattle through a space that was designed in 1969 to hold about 17,000 fewer commuters daily.

Frankly, when Rahm Emanuel started showing up on 95th Street during his campaign for mayor, his first thought must have been what the h#@$?

On Friday, I sat down with the mayor, CTA Chairman Terry Peterson and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Transportation, to talk about their vision for a $20 million grant the city received to help renovate the 95th Street Station. The entire project could cost as much as $240 million.

The renovation plan they outlined for the south end of the Red Line is long overdue. Commuters on the South Side have been complaining about the deteriorating condition of the rails and the dinginess of the 95th Street Station for years.

“You ought to write abut the Red Line,” my sister used to say when she had to catch the L at 95th Street.

What this project shows is that Mayor Emanuel gets it. When you are able to trounce every black candidate in a historic mayoral election, you owe the black community more than lofty platitudes. The south leg of the Red Line has long been the stepchild of CTA’s vast rail network.

This extensive project rewards a neglected community for its trust.

How did they come by the money to pay for this? It pays to have friends in high places.

Even though a transportation bill is limping along on a 90-day extension, Emanuel, working with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Sen. Dick Durbin, has managed to make transportation a priority.

“I believe this is essential for all the other economic opportunities that we have to have on the South Side,” Emanuel said, explaining his focus on the Red Line. “We cannot do it without having a mass transit system that can move people conveniently from home to work. I know it will be the gold standard of intermodal traffic.”

Unlike the rail work that will shut down the south leg of the Red Line for five months in 2013, the 95th Street Station will remain open during reconstruction, which will begin when the rail work winds down.

Drawings of the planned renovation depict much wider spaces, both inside and out.

It was the image of kids, loaded down with backpacks and darting between buses to access the 95th Street Station that the mayor drew upon when he sought federal funds for the project.

Also, the fact that it takes South Side commuters 20 minutes longer to get downtown by CTA rail irritated him, just as it has irritated regular commuters.

“When you are going downtown at about 15 miles an hour and kids are passing you on bikes, you know you’ve got a problem,” he said.

“This is the second-busiest system and it was not built for the way it is getting used,” he added. “It is literally falling apart. I think when this thing is done, it will be a system that sees more usage than all the other systems.”

In the meantime, Peterson is getting an earful at community meetings being held to discuss the separate, but related project — CTA’s plan to shut down the south leg of the Red Line for five months next year to do much-needed rail work.

“One thing that continues to come up is jobs, contracts and opportunity,” he said.

“That has been one of the biggest hurdles we have to fight in our community,” Beale chimed in. “If a contract comes along, the smaller companies can’t bid on it because they don’t have the capacity to be in on it. But we are planning on doing a lot of outreach . . . so [small companies] will have time to put themselves in a position to take part of this work.”

That has to happen because the Red Line renovation is a project that is ripe to be hijacked by groups with their own agenda.

When frustrated, it would help to remember that the mayor has laid out a plan that could put the south end of the Red Line on par with the north end of the system and provide some desperately needed jobs on the south side. The rail renovation alone will result in 200 additional bus drivers being hired permanently.

The project also will require hauling, painting, patching, plugging and trucking work — all jobs that could provide someone with a decent income while allowing that person to claw his or her way back from being broke.

There were signs that South Side commuters were fed up long before the announcement of the Red Line shutdown.

“This is the only line where we have seen three years of decreased ridership because folks are choosing other options,” Peterson pointed out.

To reverse that trend, and to make the Red Line what it should be, there’s a lot of work ahead, the mayor concluded.

“You’ve got to have a vision that makes sure everybody has economic opportunity, both when the station’s done, and when the station is being built.”



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