Loop Station Consolidation Will Offer Quicker Ride for Straphangers

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Rendering of the Washington/Wabash station.

Currently, the Green Line’s Morgan station, with its sleek green glass canopies, has my vote for the most attractive CTA stop. That’s about to change, as the Chicago Department of Transportation gets ready to build a new superstation at Washington and Wabash featuring dramatic undulating awnings, designed by Teng + Associates. The city says the faceted skeletal steel and glass structures refer to the curving forms of the lakefront and Grant Park, as well as the historic Jeweler’s Row district on Wabash; I think they resemble a ribcage. Either way, they’ll be a striking addition to the city.

The new $75 million station is bankrolled by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, plus a 20 percent local match. It will replace the existing Randolph/Wabash and Madison/Wabash stations, which date back to 1896 and stand little more than one full city block from each other.

Consolidating the two into a single stop will improve train times and decrease operating costs. And, unlike the old ones, the new station will be fully accessible for people with disabilities. The Randolph and Madison stops currently serve about two million riders each per year, and the city predicts the Washington station will get over four million, making it the fifth busiest in the system.

Construction is slated to start in August and last 18 months. The Madison stop will be closed during the work, but the Randolph station will remain in service until the new station opens. Sections of Wabash will be closed to car traffic during parts of construction, but sidewalks will remain open throughout the entire project.

On Thursday, CDOT held an open house about the new station at the Chicago Cultural Center. Citizens were invited to check out display boards, talk to staff about the project, and provide feedback on the environmental assessment document, available online here, to a court reporter. Paper copies of the EA are available for review at the Harold Washington Library’s fifth floor municipal reference collection. Written comments on the EA can be sent to CDOT by 5 p.m. on Friday, April 4, 2014 via email at WashingtonWabashEA[at]CityofChicago.org, or in writing to Public Information Officer, Chicago Department of Transportation, 30 North LaSalle, Suite 1100, Chicago, IL 60602.

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Rendering of the new Washington/Wabash station.

Transit advocate Charles Papanek, who lives in East Lakeview, told me at the hearing that he’s pleased with the plan. “It’s definitely one of the better projects the city is proposing,” he said. “It’s a good station consolidation idea, considering the actual space between the two stations is incredibly tight… It’s a very well thought out replacement project for these two, frankly, very ancient stations.”

Garland Armstrong, an Elmwood Park resident who serves on ADA advisory committees for the CTA and Metra, said he’s very happy the new station will feature elevators, since his wife Heather usually uses a wheelchair. “It’s long overdue,” he said. “Me and my wife will be able to get off here to go to Target and Macy’s, so we won’t have to go all the way down to the library station at State and Van Buren and then have to take a bus to get over here.”

Less happy about the project were merchants from this stretch of Wabash, who spent a significant amount of time complaining to city officials that their businesses would be hurt by the temporary loss of parking spaces and loading zones on Wabash. CDOT architect Julian Silva told me that the city is proposing to relocate loading and valet parking zones on the cross streets at the southeast corner of Madison and Wabash and the northeast corner of Washington and Wabash.

“Unfortunately, construction projects are disruptive, and this is a very complex project,” he said. “All the foundations of the columns need to be redone, so there will be a lot of excavation. The business owners have valid concerns, and we’re listening to them, but I think we have a reasonable solution.”