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Wells Street Bridge shutdown begins tonight

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Updated: April 2, 2013 6:21AM

Brace yourself, L riders.

Nine days of disruption begins tonight for CTA rail line riders heading into Chicago’s Loop.

Both decks of the 90-year-old double-decker Wells Street bridge will be shut down from 10 p.m. tonight until the morning rush on March 11, affecting Brown and Purple Line riders heading downtown.

Plus, two consecutive weekends of work on the system’s busiest rail junction — at Lake and Wells — will begin Saturday. Those affected: Brown, Green, Pink and Orange line passengers.

Throughout the nine days, rail riders will be unable to use the top deck of the Wells Street Bridge to make the usual 77,000 one-way trips a day over the Chicago River. They will join pedestrians and drivers who have been detoured by the closure of bridge’s street-level deck since Nov. 5.

The CTA is warning commuters to get ready for crowded train cars and less frequent service.

During the week, the inbound Purple Line will be suspended. For North Side Brown Line users, one of every three inbound trains will end at the Merchandise Mart. Two of three will switch over to Red Line tracks after Fullerton and make Red Line stops, but only until Roosevelt.

Weekend rerouting is even more mind-numbing, because it affects four different train lines that will be disrupted by additional work on the main elevated entryway into the Loop — at Lake and Wells — as well as replacement of tracks in the curve at Hubbard and Kinzie.

Free shuttle buses — on weekdays and weekends — may ease the pain for some.

Even so, the message from the CTA is “Leave early. Leave late. Use alternatives,’’ said spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.

The weekday work means Gilbert Morgan, a Loop restaurant manager, will have to take a shuttle as well as a Brown Line train to get home from work. But Morgan said what really frustrates him is that the disruption comes only two months after the CTA increased the cost of his 30-day pass from $86 to $100.

“They should have waited until the work was done,’’ Morgan said. “I’ve been inconvenienced twice ­­— higher fares and no train service.’’

Chicago attorney Richard Gleason, who will be switching from the Purple Line to Metra temporarily, is shrugging off the inconvenience in exchange for safety.

“There will be headaches, but they probably have to fix the bridge,” Gleason said. “I’d rather have it safe than not operating. I think it’s great they found the money to fix it.’’

Another nine-day shutdown awaits travelers starting April 26.

During each work cycle, a different half of the Wells Street bridge will be floated down the Chicago River to Wells Street for installation.

The project amounts to “an incredible feat of engineering,’’ said Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein.

And overlapping the weekend track work with the Wells Street Bridge work should shave eight days of construction and $500,000 off the project, officials say.

In the end, Klein said, the 18 total days of commuter pain should breathe an additional 50 years of life into the Wells Street Bridge.

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