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On the Heels of the South Red Rehab, City Announces O’Hare Line Overhaul

The Rosemont station on the O'Hare Line. Photo: std70040/Flickr

Yesterday morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Par Quinn announced that the O’Hare Branch of the Blue Line will receive $492 million in station and line upgrades. At the press conference at the Logan Square stop, CTA President Forrest Claypool called the project “the largest single comprehensive investment in the Blue Line since the Jefferson Park line extended to O’Hare 30 years ago.”

The O’Hare Branch serves 80,000 customers daily, with more than 25 million yearly trips. Its recent increase in ridership surpasses that of the system as a whole, with a 45 percent increase over five years and 60 percent increase over the last decade. The improvements will “better equip [the line] to handle ridership demands today and in the future,” Claypool said. The plan, dubbed “Your New Blue,” will upgrade the 12.5-mile section from the Loop to O’Hare, the world’s fifth-busiest airport by passenger traffic, and the city’s “first connection for visitors,” according to Emanuel.

Claypool, Deputy Governor Cristal Thomas, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Emanuel. Photo: Kristen Maddox

The mayor emphasized the connection between public transit and economic development. “When you put a new station in as we’ve seen in the Red Line North and the Red Line South…[the local economy] can be strengthened by having a public transit system that people can actually rely on,” he said. “With 25-percent growth in ridership, there’s a growing revitalization in those neighborhoods, and the Blue Line must continue with that revitalization.”

Thirteen stations are slated for some type of improvement. Grand, Chicago, Division, Damen, California, Logan Square, and Jefferson Park will get extensive renovations. This includes station remodeling and public art that reflects the respective neighborhoods. Addison will get repairs to the concrete platform, as well as a new elevator, which will make it accessible for people with disabilities.

Track improvements will eliminate slow zones between Grand and Division, and Damen to Belmont. The project also includes power upgrades, new signals between Jefferson Park and the airport, new water management systems to reduce leaking in the tunnels, and upgraded wireless service for riders.

Chris Bushell. Photo: Kristen Maddox

The CTA projects that travel times from O’Hare to Downtown will be reduced by ten minutes. Chris Bushell, the agency’s chief infrastructure officer, said the trains will run at a “consistent, reliable, 55 mph. Travel speeds will be increased where possible, but the speed increase comes from the combination of all the improvements, most importantly from installing new signals. These will increase train capacity, improve efficiency, and reduce ‘dwell times,’ when trains wait in stations.” The agency has already secured city, state, and federal money for the project.

Claypool said he wants to make sure the rehab is completed “on time and on budget.” The four-year project will involve temporary weekend closures, similar to those experienced during Red Line North station upgrades last year, rather than a complete shutdown of the line, as was the case with this year’s five-month Red Line South reconstruction. Bushell said this is because the Blue Line infrastructure is “vastly different” than the South Side line.

Improvements to the Blue Line’s Forest Park Branch may follow the O’Hare Line rehab. The Illinois Department of Transportation is looking into rebuilding the Eisenhower, which could include reconstructing the train line in the expressway’s median, although Bushell stated that the specifics of this project will depend on the result of the IDOT study.

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