Construction Set to Begin on Red Line’s 95th Street Terminal

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Rendering of the interior of the new 95th Street station.

Last year, the CTA completed the $425 million South Red Line reconstruction and last week the agency provided an update on the $203 million rehab of the Red Line’s Wilson stop. This morning, local politicians broke ground on another massive project to improve the backbone of the ‘L’ system: the $240 million reconstruction of the line’s 95th Street station.

The 95th Street stop can obviously use a facelift. When built in 1969 as part of the construction of the Dan Ryan expressway, with a design by Sears Tower architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the terminal probably seemed like a gleaming, modern facility. Nowadays it feels like a relic from the Soviet era. Work will soon begin to transform station into a sleek, Jetsonesque structure that should create a safer, more pleasant environment for customers. The construction should be complete by 2017, and the stop will remain open throughout the project.

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The current station. Photo: John Greenfield

Currently, the station has terrible pedestrian access, since broad, multilane streets surround it. The new facility will include buildings on the north and south side of 95th, connected by a skyway, so it will no longer be necessary for people approaching from the south to make an at-grade crossing of the six-lane street to catch a train.

The stop, which serves about 20,000 riders a day, is a multimodal hub. It sees more than 1,000 CTA and Pace bus trips on a typical weekday, and also serves as a stop for Greyhound and Indian Trail intercity buses. As part of the project, sidewalks outside the station will be widened, and larger bus waiting areas will be added. Wider bus lanes and more space between bus bays will improve traffic flow.

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The new station will consist of two buildings connected by a skyway.

“45 years ago, the CTA opened the structure that we’re standing in right now,” said CTA Board Chair Terry Peterson at the event. “At the time, it was a modern, forward-thinking station, serving as a terminal for the new CTA Red Line. But what worked well in 1969 does not work well in 2014. Simply put, this station cannot effectively handle all the traffic it sees.”

“Not only does the station itself get crowded, but pedestrians have to weave in and out of bus traffic or use narrow sidewalks,” Peterson added. “The new terminal will provide a much more welcoming environment for passengers, while improving the flow of buses and making it easier and safer for pedestrians.”

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Waiting for buses outside the current station. Photo: John Greenfield

CTA president Forrest Claypool touted the design of the more spacious new station, which includes glass-and-steel canopies and glass-enclosed structures, as well as public art by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates. “The 95th Street terminal will look nothing like the building you see here today,” he said. “The new station will be bright, airy, and light-filled.”

Senator Dick Durbin claimed that a visit to the station is de rigueur for politicians seeking statewide office. “If you don’t come down to 95th and the Dan Ryan, shake hands and pass out literature, you don’t have a chance,” he quipped. “Every statewide candidate makes it down here. It’s like a pilgrimage. We know the crush of humanity, people coming off those buses, coming off those trains, trying to move through.”

“Well, good news,” Durbin said. “We’re going to have a new station because the Chicago Bears have been bringing the TIGERs home.” The senator explained that the city won a $20 million federal TIGER grant for the station in a competitive application process. The new facility is also being bankrolled by a federal TIFIA loan, a federal bus livibility grant, federal formula funds, state of Illinois Jobs Now funds, and CTA bonds.

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Durbin speaks at this morning’s event. Photo: John Greenfield

Veteran Congressman Bobby Rush said he’s excited that the project is creating over 700 construction jobs, many of which will go to South Siders. “We’re looking forward to the jobs, and the contracts that are going to the people who desperately need these economic opportunities,” he said.

Governor Pat Quinn noted that the shiny new station, which will include expanded retail concession space, should encourage more investment in the surrounding neighborhoods. “This is going to create a lot of economic growth around a major terminal, with opportunities for stores, creating more jobs,” he said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he took the Red Line to work this morning, and appreciated that the southern portion can now handle 55 mph train speeds as opposed to its old 15 mph average. He joked that, before the track rehab, bicyclists used to move faster than the ‘L’ cars. Emanuel added that the 95th Street project is in keeping with his goal “to have a station, and a train system, and a transportation system, that’s worthy being called the best in the nation.”

  • Anne A

    Looking forward to having better access at the new station.

  • Rodney Ruxin

    A budgetary boondoggle for a cash strapped transit system. The new Green Line station at McCormick Place, albeit smaller, will have a price tag of 1/5 of this.

  • Duke Of DaveSquare

    much to your chagrin, Cermak’s ridership would be 1/5 of 95th. Try again.

  • Keep in mind, this isn’t just a very busy train station. It’s also a very busy bus station. The fact that it straddles the Ryan also adds a lot of complication and expense.

  • Rodney Ruxin

    Oh my that is a terrible way to evaluate something. There’s economies of scale and such.

  • Coolebra

    New stations are nice. We need new and improved transit, though.

    Yes, expand the Red Line south.

    Yes, extend the Blue Line west.

    Yes, create a line that runs N/S from Midway up to O’Hare (one of the highest scoring projects considered in GoTo 2040 analysis, incidentally, yet it is unconstrained, i.e., never to be built in the foreseeable future.)

    Yes, utilize existing roadway lanes to create dedicated bus rapid transit lanes.

    Yes, we need a different future for transit – one that achieves and surpasses state of good repair goals, one that endeavors to build-out a network of high quality, affordable, reliable, and efficient transit alternatives.

    A transit system that actually supports the USDOT “Ladders of Opportunity.”

    A transit system that connects the places where people live with the locations where they work – or could work, if accessible.

    A transit system that encourages the sort of development our regional comprehensive plan calls for.

    What is our transit future?

    Check here:
    http://www.transitfuture.org

  • NorthSure

    We need a train line that follows the Crosstown right-of-way/Cicero Avenue with transfers to all the other lines between Jefferson Park and Midway. We need the Brown Line extended to Jefferson Park and to turn the South Chicago Line over to the CTA. I’d like to see the Humboldt branch of the Blue Line put back but I really doubt that’s gonna happen (even more so than the other projects).

    In smaller, more practical terms we need Green Line stations at Western and Damen, the 11 Lincoln bus restored and an Elston bus. You have to think local, with people making local stops. Where would a Blue Line extension go?

  • Coolebra

    Blue Line west to at least Mannheim, with connection to DuPage BRT running between Naperville, Oak Brook, and Schaumburg.

    Give people a transit alternative to driving on I-290 – a viable transit option to get two/from the significant DuPage employment centers.

  • NorthSure

    Is that practical? I’ve been to Schaumburg and Oak Brook, and the Loop it ain’t. Parking lots as far as the eye can see. I’ve had to go out to Oak Brook for work a couple times and when I went walking at lunch I had to jump a low fence to get to the only practical restaurant.

  • FG

    That doesn’t make any sense – economies of scale only apply to like projects, big repetitive or prefabricated type projects. I’m not sure how rebuilding a station is a boondoggle – it’s in poor condition and would have to be renovated at the very least. Comparing this to Cermak isn’t a fair comparison since 95th is an exsiting station which has to be kept in use, over an interstate highway which also has to be kept in use and the various additional technical and structural requirements that vehicular bridges have over a simple new build elevated station. Now whether it could have been done for less or in a different manner is a different question.

  • FG

    Basically you are talking about restoring the old electric line that once ran that way. Restoring the old Westchester branch would be nice too. It would probably be more practical to restore that with express service through the city – it would be a very long and slow ride as an extension of the blue line.

  • Coolebra

    Yes, DuPage needs N/S transit just like Cook. The reverse commute isn’t served well by transit, either. BRT on dedicated ROW can have feeder ART service. ART/BRT could also run N/S on Ashland, Cicero, First Ave., and Mannheim.

    Alternatively, we can keep building road capacity.

  • Coolebra

    Could be limited stops – Mannheim, 25th, and First Ave.

    Far better than the current alternative: Sitting on I-290 in a car or multiple bus transfers with routes that only run once per hour and don’t start in time to get anyone to work on-time, unless you work 9-5.

  • Anne A

    This station has been bursting at the seams for years. It serves at least 16 CTA and Pace bus routes, some of which have very frequent service. Both at rush hour and off peak times, the street level bus area is often strained to accommodate all the passengers. There’s not enough space for folks getting off buses to pass folks waiting for buses on the west side of the station, so it’s not unusual for some people to walk through the bus lanes – not ideal from a safety perspective.

    For folks entering or leaving the station on foot or by bike, it’s the same problem. On the east side of the station, walking from the passageway across the Dan Ryan (exit from train area) then along a narrow sidewalk/waiting area may require weaving through a lot of people or walking in a bus lane. Once one gets to State St., it’s not an easy proposition to cross, either at 95th (stoplight) or at the northern end of the station (no crosswalk or light) due to speeding traffic towards the Dan Ryan on ramp. On the west side (Lafayette), most folks cross at 95th (stoplight), but it’s a wide crossing (4 lanes from edge of bus area) and the light is relatively short.

  • rohmen

    FG pointed this out, but part of the problem is that the Blue Line already takes over 50 minutes to get from Forest Park to the Loop (google maps say it only takes 32 minutes, but I ride the blue every day between the loop and the austin stop, and even that trip takes well over 30 minutes during rush times).

    Unless they put serious improvements into the tracks (which they keep promising to do, but never actually seems to get off the ground), any extension of the Blue Line to Mannheim doesn’t make sense imho where it would likely take well over an hour to get to the Loop.

    In order to significantly cut down on traffic on 290, especially for reverse commuters dealing with free parking once they arrive at work, the Blue Line has to be the cheaper AND faster option. With current track conditions, even in rush hour, people can still often drive faster if they’re going further than Oak Park.

  • Coolebra

    Serious improvements to the track are coming.

    You’re right, and CTA has acknowledged, the Blue Line Forest Park branch is the worst in CTA’s system.

    While it is recognized that Blue Line infrastructure is at or beyond its useful life and plans are underway to modernize the Forest Park branch, nobody that matters is really planning to extend the line westward.

    It’s all about the money. IDOT has it and they don’t build transit.

    in any case, here’s the ongoing CTA study of Blue Line Forest Park branch needs:

    http://www.transitchicago.com/blueweststudy/

    Transit Future, on the other hand, looks beyond the meager goal of state of good repair and envisions something bolder – something we can realize if we dream big and commit financially, as some other cities are doing.

  • Coolebra

    I should add that I’ve done both a lot: Driven I-290 and ridden the Blue Line during rush. Even as decrepit as the Blue Line Forest Park branch presently is, it still beats sitting in traffic during rush on I-290 for trips downtown and beyond Oak Park.

    Not only does it have a speed advantage, but it also offers much higher travel time reliability, fewer headaches associated with driver behavior, and more convenience, i.e., I can work, surf the Net, post to blogs, or whatever I want while I am riding . . . all reasons why younger Americans are increasingly choosing transit over driving, yet we keep building road capacity instead.

  • rohmen

    I agree with your comments that riding transit is better than sitting on 290, which is why I choose the train and specifically moved to this part of OP to get access to the blue line.

    Unfortunately, though, the CTA has tied any serious long-term improvements to the Forest Park branch to construction of a widened 290, and that project has been bogged down for years because of the eminent domain and other issues surrounding widening 290 through Oak Park. http://oakpark.suntimes.com/2014/04/28/cta-to-fix-slow-zones-on-blue-line-to-oak-park-temporarily/

    The supposed track work that took place this summer did speed things up a bit, but it’s still pretty bad, and the ridership numbers reflect it.

    I wouldn’t be opposed to supporting an expansion. But, much like how Rahm has expanded bicycle infrastructure in Chicago, talking expansion is only worth so much if the City is not willing to even commit to properly keeping up the systems already in place.

  • R.A. Stewart

    You went walking? In Oak Brook? And you weren’t arrested on suspicion of being suspicious, or something?

  • Anne A

    Track conditions have been terrible there in recent years. I don’t ride the Forest Park branch often, but I’ve been appalled by conditions on each trip.

  • Coolebra

    Agreed – we need to maintain the investments we make, not allow them to slowly fade away, which is precisely how we have handled transit in our region for several decades.

    While we get ink black asphalt, gleaming guard rails, and miles upon miles of added incremental road capacity, our transit infrastructure is stuck in the 50s and its age is showing.

    At the same time, our regional comprehensive plan calls for dramatic increases in transit, focused development, and the like.

    There’s a glaring disconnect between public policy and the actual investments we make.

    30 mile add-a-lanes to Rockford?
    Illiana Expressway?
    Prairie Parkway?
    I-290 add-a-lane, take-away-a-lane?

    C’mon – we can do better.

  • FG

    Why would there need to be eminent domain or highway widening for track work, general work or improvements to happen on the Blue Line? Most of the ROW was designed for the Elgin Electric to run next to the CTA tracks and there is freight too (I think in Oak Park where the tracks are to the south of the highway).

  • rohmen

    Well, the talk has always been that they intend to widen 290 through OP within the already-established canyon, likely by acquiring the land presently used by the freight lines. Since the current blue line tracks are right next to 290 in the OP canyon, I think CTA’s understanding is that the current track will have to be completely removed in order to widen the interstate. My bet would be that the CTA and IDOT ultimately intend to then run the blue line tracks down the median between the newly-widened/redesigned lanes, similar to how the O’Hare branch is designed along the Kennedy, or relocate them to the far south portion of the “canyon,” where the current freight lines run.

    The problem is that IDOT is getting a lot of push back on acquiring the freight right-of-way, and from the village itself with regards to razing private property in OP to move the Harlem and Austin ramps to a more traditional design, which in turn has bogged down the project for years. The earliest projected start time is now 2017, and even that seems unlikely, as OP has threatened to tag areas as historic and fight expansion plans in court when IDOT’s final plan is announced late this year.

    The CTA could certainly start to imporve the track on portions outside of the “canyon,” and some work such as the IMD station upgrade is happening, but it seems like CTA’s approach is just to wait until the dust settles and IDOT begins construction before tackling a complete rebuild of the entire line–which they claim will be similar to what they did on the dan ryan branch of the red line.

  • FG

    I’d forgotten about the widening – but they could certainly rebuild the tracks further east without waiting on Oak Park (as you say above). That would also reduce the capital expenditure and break it into bite size pieces.

  • rohmen

    I agree 100%. It’s ridiculous that CTA has seemed to adopt an all-or-nothing approach to improving infrastructure. Rebuilding the blue line all the way out to the Cicero stop would improve over half of the line, and could be accomplished without even having to address the problems with 290 in OP, but I’m not going to hold my breadth.

  • FG

    I wonder if it’s easier for them to raise funds if it is one project – especially if they have to get multiple politicians onboard to get funding.

    Although, in this case, not only are the tracks in multiple municipalities, but the layouts drastically different, unlike the Dan Ryan.