Blue Line construction with closures to start in March

Track repairs along the Blue Line O'Hare branch are the first projects of modernization that will provide smoother, faster commutes, the city said.
February 24, 2014 6:01:40 AM PST
Next month, the Chicago Transit Authority will begin the first project for the Your New Blue improvement program for the Blue Line O'Hare branch, a $492 million program to provide better commutes and improved stations, the city said.

Announced in December, Your New Blue includes a number of track and station improvement projects along the 12.5-mile stretch of the O'Hare Branch between the Grand and O'Hare stations. Your New Blue is the largest, most comprehensive investment in the Blue Line since the O'Hare branch was extended to the airport from Jefferson Park in 1983-84, the city said.

The first phase of Your New Blue involves replacing wooden rail ties, tie plates and other track materials on the Milwaukee elevated track structure between the Damen and Logan Square stops, a section of line that opened in 1895 and still sits on the original structure. That work will require 10 temporary, weekend-only closures of sections of the Blue Line, tentatively scheduled between March and August: 7 weekends - closure between Western and Logan Square 3 weekends - closure between Damen and Western

During the temporary closures, the CTA will provide free shuttle bus service for rail customers, as well as free transfers back into rail stations. The shuttle buses will run continuously and will be able to accommodate all Blue Line passengers. Shuttle buses will stop at each station affected by the line cut to pick up and drop off passengers.

The first temporary closure is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of March 21-24. The closure will begin at 10 p.m. Friday and reopen by 4 a.m. Monday.

Some of the weekend work will also require some temporary street closures and parking restrictions near the elevated structure. Details have not been finalized, the city said.

In all, the four-year Your New Blue program will upgrade 13 stations, including adding a new elevator at Addison; improve tracks and signals; install new water-management systems and repairs to ensure dry and clean subway stations; and upgrade traction power to improve service and reliability, the city said.

There were more than 25 million station entries on the O'Hare Branch of the Blue Line in 2012. Weekday ridership has grown 25 percent over the past five years, and 33 percent over the past 10 years, the city says, outpacing the growth of the rail system as a whole. Annual ridership on the O'Hare Branch increased by 6.3 million rides over the past 10 years, the second highest for any branch after the section of the Red Line north of Belmont, which added 7 million rides annually during that period.

In addition to the recently completed $425 million Red Line South reconstruction, the CTA in 2014 will begin building a new terminal at 95th Street Red Line for $240 million; rebuilding the Wilson station on the Red Line for $203 million and working with CDOT to complete a new Cermak-McCormick Place elevated Green Line station for $50 million by the end of 2014, the city said.

More information about the project is available at www.transitchicago.com/yournewblue.

This is a project that will play out over a four-year time span and unlike the Red Line South, which was a complete rail rebuild, the "New Blue," as it's being called, is meant to bring a better look and better travel times to a busy line, and it won't be inexpensive.

There are parts of the Blue Line that have the slows. Wooden ties beaten by weather and age will be replaced. The elevated section between Division and Logan is due for structural rehab.

The biggest portion of the half-billion dollar fix up will be spent on an improved signal system. That's arguably the most important part of what's now being branded "Your New Blue."

"That is an incredibly complex enterprise," said CTA President Forrest Claypool. "That's what stretches it out over four years. That'll be the last piece of the puzzle."

Better signal coordination means trains don't get slowed as often, which means platforms are apt to be less congested, which means improved travel times, and here's the big promise of the New Blue.

"First of all, the new Blue will take 10 minutes of travel time off the airport to downtown and downtown to airport," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Ten minutes off the travel time from downtown to O'Hare, which is typically a 45-50 minute ride, is the aim that the mayor has put on record.

Some of the other stations haven't changed much since then, but this project will give seven Blue stations a face lift. And the subway will be upgraded to 4G service so your smart gear stays connected.

"It's already a pretty good commute," said Blue Line rider Carl Rybaltowski. "As long as that stuff is even along the whole route, that's pretty good."

While there will be federal money and state money used to pay for the reconstruction, the lion's share will be local money.


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