Silver Linings Playbook: Rahm Touts Red Line Shutdown Jobs

Mayor Emanuel Welcomes the Newest Graduating Class of CTA Bus Drivers
Mayor Emanuel greets newly hired CTA bus drivers. Photo: mayor's office.

Closing down the Red Line between Roosevelt Road and 95th Street from May to September this year is a necessary evil. The $425 million Red Line South Track Renewal Project will force South Side commuters to switch to the Green Line and/or temporary shuttle buses during construction, but ripping out and replacing the 10.2 miles of track will result in 30 or 40 years of faster service.

When the CTA announced the shutdown last year, many South Siders were understandably upset, arguing the agency was being insensitive to the needs of low-income individuals and people of color. After all, during the $530 million Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project, which took place a few years ago in mostly white, more affluent neighborhoods, the trains kept running and the work was largely done on weekends. However, that project chiefly involved station renovations, not track renewal.

“People have said, ‘If we were up north you wouldn’t be doing it this way,’” CTA spokeman Steve Mayberry told me. “But anywhere in our system where you’re looking at completely replacing the tracks, you’d have to shut it down. When you remove emotion and look at the facts, doing it this way makes a lot of sense.”

He says if the CTA did the South Red Line work on weekends only it would take four more years and another $75 million. This “ripping off the Band-Aid” approach means South Side customers will have a much shorter wait for faster service. The agency estimates that by eliminating slow zones it will cut travel times for the round trip from 95th to Roosevelt and back by 20 minutes.

In the meantime, the Emanuel administration is offering a spoonful of sugar to help make the bitter medicine of Red Line service interruption go down easier. Earlier this week the mayor’s office sent out press releases heralding the creation of more than 400 bus driver jobs and 100 traffic control aide positions in conjunction with the track rehab.

95/Dan Ryan CTA Red Line
Photo: Jeff Zoline.

The CTA has already hired the drivers for these part-time positions operating the shuttles and expanded supplemental bus service, choosing from a pool of over 4,000 applicants. According to the city, the vast majority of the incoming bus operators heard about the openings via three job fairs held last summer near the South Red Line, so it’s safe to assume most of these new hires are South Siders.

The press release also notes that the reconstruction project is creating jobs for hundreds of ironworkers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers and other tradespeople. While the CTA is not hiring these laborers directly, it is working with the general contractors to make sure that opportunities are available to unemployed and “economically disadvantaged” individuals via the Workforce Investment Act.

The agency also organized several meetings between the contractors and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise firms, which helped bring DBE participation in the track work contract up to 29 percent, which exceeded the CTA’s goals. There will be 40 percent DBE involvement in the station work contract.

While we don’t expect folks on the South Side to be happy about having to put up with commuting delays during the five-month Red Line shutdown, they can look forward to much shorter travel times once the work is complete. And hopefully the city’s successful efforts to create employment for South Siders, including low-income folks and people of color, as part of this project will make the bitter pill of short term hassles easier to swallow.

  • The job aspect of this project is a rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy transit picture for this summer.

    Compared to what travel times were before the Dan Ryan reconstruction (when the south side red line REALLY got screwed up), the elimination of current slow zones should reduce travel time from Roosevelt to 95th by AT LEAST 20 minutes.

    With limited slow spots back then, I could pretty much count on a trip from Cermak to 95th taking me 20 minutes, and the trip from Roosevelt taking just a few minutes more. Under current conditions, it usually takes me 45-50 minutes to go from Cermak to 95th – if there are no additional delays for people needing assistance, disruptive passengers, medical emergencies, or mechanical problems.

    With limited slow zones on north and south sides (pre-Dan Ryan reconstruction), a trip from 95th to Howard usually took 55-60 minutes. It now takes 90 minutes or more, sometimes close to 2 hours if it’s a time when there’s construction on the tracks.

    After seeing the extreme deterioration in speed and reliability of service over the last several years, there’s no doubt in my mind that the red line reconstruction project is necessary. However, I don’t have any great confidence in how well CTA will handle the bus and green line alternate routing. I find myself hoping that it works better than expected, and wishing I could fast forward to the end of the project and skip the months of pain.

    I may be riding a lot more distance on my bike this summer and using transit routes that I wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

  • Jacob Peters

    Great article, but I am a bit confused by this 20 minute reduction stat. Does this mean that it is currently taking 46 minutes to get from Roosevelt to 95th? Because the CTA station to station schedule on http://www.chicagotransit.org says that the trip only takes 26 minutes. So either that schedule doesn’t factor in slow zones, or the 20 minute reduction is questionable. Even a speeding car can barely get from 95th to Roosevelt in 6 minutes. Either way, any word on whether Englewood residents are going to get the streetscape and bus stop changes around the 63rd stop that the community has previously identified?

  • That schedule does NOT factor in slow zones. In recent months, travel times from Roosevelt to 95th have often been in the neighborhood of 45-50 minutes. I rode it a few nights ago and was amazed when it only took 40 minutes – faster than any recent trip I’d taken on that segment of the red line, presumably due to some recent patch-up work (which won’t hold up very long).

    If the reconstruction can return that Roosevelt to 95th trip to the old norm I used to experience (a reliable 25-26 minutes), I’ll be a very happy camper.

  • Adam Herstein

    What happens to those 400 bus drivers once the work on the Red Line is complete?

  • Good catch. The CTA was talking about the round trip from 95th and Roosevelt and back, which makes more sense, since last time I clocked the trip from Fullerton to 95th it took 45 minutes. Sorry for the error; I’ve corrected the text.

  • From the press release: “The bus drivers start out as part-time employees, but eventually become full-time drivers as other drivers retire or leave CTA employment.” Similar situation with the traffic aides.

  • Not to beat a proverbial dead horse, but an improvement of 20 minutes in the round trip from Roosevelt to 95th wouldn’t be much of a boost over current conditions. The one way improvement should be 20 minutes or more.

  • Joseph Musco

    CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry told me. “But anywhere in our system where you’re looking at completely replacing the tracks, you’d have to shut it down. When you remove emotion and look at the facts, doing it this way makes a lot of sense.”

    Is CTA going to close Wilson Station when they completely replace the tracks through that station to save money? No. Why doesn’t the justification given by CTA for the Red South improvements hold for the $203M Wilson Station project?

  • Anonymous

    Wilson is quad-tracked.

    You generally have to shut down two-tracked sections.

    Please note that the parallel Green Line is being kept open while the Red Line is closed.

  • But the green line only goes to 63th St. Even with the planned shuttle buses, that’s not equal to having trains all the way to 95th.

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