Yesterday’s Sun-Times update on the CTA’s proposed South Red Line extension included some interesting details about the project, as well as a few misguided comments about transit from 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale, who is also the chair of City Council’s transportation committee.
The CTA is considering two rail routes for the $2 billion, roughly five-mile extension. Bus rapid transit is a third possibility under consideration. One rail alternative would follow existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks, initially paralleling Eggleston, a half mile west of the current terminus at 95th and State. After continuing south for a few miles, the route would gradually make its way southeast to 130th and King, by the Altgeld Gardens housing project. For this option, the CTA plans to build new stations at 103rd, 111th, 115th, and 130th. View a map of the route here. The agency selected this scenario as the “locally preferred alternative” in 2009 based on initial analysis and public feedback.
The other rail option would travel down Halsted, through a more densely populated area. From the 95th station, it would travel in the median of I-57 until reaching Halsted, where it would operate as an elevated train and continue to Vermont Avenue, just south of 127th. Stops would be located at 103rd, 111th, 1119th, and Vermont. View a map of the route here.
While several Metra lines serve this part of the South Side, the proposed station locations for both rail options would mean that the ‘L’ stops would generally be several blocks from the nearest Metra station. That way, the Red Line service wouldn’t necessarily be redundant, but would instead provide convenient transit access for new areas of the city.
However, a total of up to 2,000 parking spaces is proposed for the four new Red Line stops, which seems excessive. The potentially valuable land around the stations shouldn’t be largely used for warehousing cars. Instead, the focus should be on developing housing, retail, and other uses that take advantage of the proximity to rapid transit.
Beale, who was briefed on the two options Tuesday, was enthusiastic about the UPRR route, but expressed a strong distaste for building ‘L’ tracks on Halsted. “Halsted Street is wide open,” he said. “Putting elevated tracks down the middle of the street would disrupt the integrity and cosmetics of Halsted. It would hurt existing businesses.”
However, there are a few factors that complicate the Union Pacific route. The electrified CTA train cars can’t use the same rails as the UPRR’s diesel trains. Meanwhile, the right-of-way might not be wide enough for the Red Line to run alongside the existing tracks, and running elevated passenger trains over the existing rails might be problematic if the freight tracks are used by trains hauling hazardous materials.
If Halsted turns out to be the more practical route, elevated tracks shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. Far from hurting local merchants, the new train stations would be a boon for retail because they would make it easier for customers to access these businesses without a car. They would also attract new businesses that cater to train commuters, such as coffee shops and dry cleaners.
Beale’s perspective that train service would detract from Halsted is reminiscent of the shortsighted thinking that led to the demolition of several blocks of the Green Line’s Jackson Park branch in 1997. This move arguably improved the aesthetics of this stretch, paving the way for an upscale housing development, but it forever eliminated rapid transit access.
Next year, the CTA will finalize the draft environmental impact statement for the Red Line extension project, which will review all three alternatives, and then hold public hearings to select the final alternative, according to spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis. If Halsted turns out to be the most sensible choice, hopefully Beale will drop his opposition.