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Abe Tekippe/MEDILL

The Purple Line Dempster station is one of 15 stations north of Belmont that are not accessible to people with mobility problems.

CTA hopes to revamp parts of Red, Purple lines

by Abe Tekippe
Jan 25, 2011

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North Red and Purple Modernization Project

Attend a public meeting

  • Edgewater — Tuesday, Jan. 25; 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.; Nicholas Senn High School 5900 N. Glenwood Ave.
  • Rogers Park — Wednesday, Jan. 26; 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.;  New Field Primary School 1707 W. Morse Ave.
  • Evanston — Thursday, Jan. 27; 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.; Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center 1655 Foster St. 

The CTA is moving forward with plans to bring northern parts of the Red and Purple lines into the 21st century, using community input to decide which of six options to choose.

Although still in the planning stage, officials said the project, running between the Belmont and Linden stations, seeks to combat nearly a century’s worth of wear and tear on some of the oldest — and busiest — “El” lines in the city, used by 128,000 people on an average weekday.

“A lot of the stations that are just south of the Howard station were built in the early 1900s,” CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said. “We do funnel operating funds and capital funds into making the necessary repairs to keep them safe, but overall these facilities are aged. For them to provide the best service to our customers with the right amenities ... we have to rebuild them.”

The project, which stems from a year-long CTA study, suggests six possible modernization plans ranging in cost from $280 million to $4.2 billion, many of which call for faster rails, wider platforms and better accessibility. On Monday, officials held the first of four meetings to get public input, a necessary step in applying for federal funding.

“Funding is certainly going to be a challenge. The money’s not just sitting out there,” said Michael Connelly, a CTA program development manager. “But we believe we can obtain the funding to do this.”

Connelly said that any federal funds for the project would have to be matched by state and local dollars, and would be separate from those used for a possible Red Line expansion on the South Side.

“The two won’t really be competing,” Connelly said. “We think we can move both projects forward at the same time.”

In addition to funding, Connelly said other challenges include maintaining service during the modernization and limiting negative impacts — such as noise, dust and traffic congestion — on the neighborhoods that border the Red and Purple lines.

“We are always aware of where we are,” Connelly said. “We’re always aware that we’re in somebody’s neighborhood, so we need to be careful and we need to try to mitigate those impacts on people.”

Of course, how the CTA goes about mitigating those impacts depends on which modernization plan is selected.

The “No Action Alternative,” the cheapest of the plans at $280 million, would maintain the status quo, making the minimum repairs to keep the lines functional, according to the CTA. Furthermore, additional access would not be provided for commuters with mobility problems, with only six of the 21 stations ADA accessible.

By comparison, the “Modernization 4-Track Alternative,” the most expensive plan at $4.2 billion, would fully address all safety and accessibility concerns, providing faster services that would likely last for 60 to 80 years.

Community members who attended the meeting supported several of the plans.

“If you’re gonna spend the money, you might as well go all the way and make a big plan,” said Joann Preston, 61, of Skokie.

William Reynolds, 70, said he supported the “Basic Rehabilitation Alternative,” the second least expensive option, but still $2.4 billion.

“I think some of [the proposals] are a bit far-fetched,” said Reynolds, a retired CTA employee. “I mean, they’d be nice, but that kind of government funding will almost certainly never come through.”

Although they differed on which plan is best, the residents agreed that changes are necessary.

“I think the modernization is very important because, among other things, the existing tracks and the existing stations and the existing buttresses are literally falling apart,” said Julia Rath, 54, of Skokie. “They’ve already renovated stations at Belmont and Fullerton and now they just basically have to do it for the rest of the line.”

But officials said that even if funding were obtained, the modernization wouldn’t happen overnight.
“It’s a very, very huge project in terms of the size and the impact that it will have,” Connelly said, adding that, like the recent renovations to the Brown Line, renovations to the Red and Purple lines could take about five years. “In some cases, we shore things up with additional steel to stiffen or strengthen a bridge that’s up there. That’s a short-term solution. The long-term solution is to get the funding and rebuild it.”