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CTA to shut south leg of Red Line for 5 months next year for reconstruction

Red Line to close from 95th to Cermak


Which option should the CTA have picked for the Red Line work?

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:27AM

South Side riders of the Red Line L are in for a commuting nightmare a year from now, when the CTA plans to shut down the south leg of the line for five months.

The Chicago Transportation Authority will completely rebuild the Red Line from Cermak Road to 95th Street­ — a 10-mile stretch of tracks originally built in 1969.

During the $425 million reconstruction headache, the agency will offer commuters alternatives that include taking shuttle buses from major stations to the Green Line — where they’ll get to ride for free — or taking regular buses at a discount.

A collective groan of frustration rose among Red Line riders hearing the news Monday at the Garfield station CTA officials used as a backdrop for the announcement.

But CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson insisted there is no getting around the closure.

“To do a project like this means we’ll have to impact our service,” Peterson said. “We have opted for the plan that allows us to complete the work in the least amount of time and at the lowest cost. We simply cannot afford to put this off any longer. The future viability of the Red Line depends on this.”

The project will replace everything on a 43-year-old stretch offering the worst slow zones on the CTA system from the tracks to third rail, rail ties, ballast and drainage systems — many items completely deteriorated, officials said.

On about 40 percent of that stretch, L trains have to slow to as little as 15 miles an hour where they should be traveling up to 55 miles an hour, Peterson said.

“Anyone who’s ridden the South Red Line can tell you, it is a slow trip,” Peterson said. “A bicyclist can travel faster than our trains do here.”

When the work is done, the one-way ride through the south end of the Red Line should be 10 minutes faster, CTA officials said.

“It will be a brand new railroad,” Peterson said. “Their train ride will also be much smoother, with fewer bumps and sways. And service will be much more reliable.”

In the meantime, however, it’s going to be a rough ride ahead for commuters used to riding the Red Line in the leg south of the Loop to 95th, most of it along the median of the Dan Ryan Expy.

“We realize what a huge impact this will have on our customers,” acknowledged Peterson. “That’s why we are planning to offer multiple, convenient options for people to get around during the construction.”

The agency plans to operate free shuttle buses taking riders from the 69th Street, 79th Street, 87th Street and 95th Street stations to the Garfield Boulevard station on the Green Line — with free Green Line entry for shuttle riders.

It also plans to operate Red Line trains on Green Line tracks between 63rd Street and Ashland Avenue and the Roosevelt Road stop. From Roosevelt, northbound Red Line trains will return to the normal Red Line tracks, continuing all the way to the north terminal at Howard Street on the Evanston border.

CTA also will offer a 50-cent discount on numerous South Side bus routes that connect with the Green Line, and double the number of those buses from 100 to 200.

CTA officials said they decided to completely shut down the Red Line’s Dan Ryan leg because the alternative — doing the work on weekends — would have taken four years to complete, which they said was too long to continue operating with slow zones.

They said it is cheaper this way, too, costing the agency $75 million less than doing the work over four years of weekends.

“The choice was between a five-month project with a shutdown and shuttles, or four years of delays and disruptions,” CTA President Forrest Claypool stressed. “We’re proposing that we do it fast, especially given the weekend ridership.”

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said the agency made the right choice. “Shutting the Red Line down for five months is better than the alternative of shutting it down for four or five years each weekend,” he said. “Yes, there’s an inconvenience. But the long-lasting effect of fixing slow zones and upgrading stations will outweigh the temporary inconveniences.”

CTA officials plan to use the $75 million they say they’ll save by not stretching the work over four years to pay for the alternate commuting options and upgrading some south leg stations, including new elevators at Garfield Boulevard, 63rd Street and 87th Street to make all the Red Line stations fully disabled accessible.

CTA officials also trumpeted the jobs the project will create, from construction and material suppliers to hiring up to 200 additional bus drivers. CTA has partnered with the Chicago Urban League and minority contractor groups to ensure a minimum 25-30 percent contracts set aside for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises.

As for businesses along the line, some along the Red Line predicted the closure will hurt them.

“It’s going to be terrible for five months,” Rudolph Jones, store manager at Black Planet Products, 107 W. 95th, said Monday. “I just have to live with it and hope for the best,” he said, noting that many of his customers come in on the L.

Contributing: Fran Spielman, Stefano Esposito and Kim Janssen

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