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.

  • Mishellie

    Im glad to see that Jefferson Park will be upgraded. It looks like it’s rusting to pieces. California , Western, and Chicago will be nice as well. I do hope they maintain some of the vintage charm of the Damen stop – I always think it’s a nice station. They could add a staircase on North Avenue that you can enter through though – that way the bus riders getting off won’t have to rush across that street and around the corner to get to the station.

  • John

    Wow, let’s put that side by side with the earlier story about IL-53:

    Blue Line: 80,000 riders per day (so over 16M per year), 12.5 mile rehab, $492M (roughly $30 per ride, first year)

    IL-53: 12,000 vehicles per day (so over 2.4M per year), 25 mile greenfield build, $2870M (roughly $1200 per ride, first year)

    Is that right? (IL-53 vehicle count comes from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_355)

  • IL-53 is new construction and this is just a rehab so the two can’t really be compared on a level field.

    But it is worth pointing out that the cost per mile of the new IL-53 extension will be over $100 million per mile for a roadway that is really not projected to bring in a lot of money by those using it (as opposed to CTA which gets more than half its expenses paid by its users).

  • John

    Oops – intended to use 250 workdays per year, used 200 carelessly. But I get points for consistency, right?

  • Coolebra

    A rehab that is necessary irrespective of any travel time savings, so all the hay being made about the cost to get a ten minute travel-time savings is misplaced – the savings is a co-benefit not an underlying rationale for the investment.

  • What does “extensive station renovations” entail? Will they reopen the closed egresses at Grand?

  • That’s true. This is needed to maintain the blue line. It isn’t an upgrade that some other cities get because they decide to make their transportation better, not just maintain it ;)

    And I prefer these fix-it investments for now because instead of building something new that will need to be maintained, they’re making what exists better. However, transportation options out on the NW side leave much to be desired, I believe that should be established too.

  • madopal

    I really had hoped that when any Blue Line renovations happened, they would work on traffic calming around the stations along the Kennedy. I can’t think of more pedestrian-hostile stations than those. But it appears that no work has been announced for that at all, right? It’s all track/internal station work?

  • Roland Solinski

    Is that 12000 figure an estimate of traffic on the extension? Otherwise, your 53 traffic count is off by a factor of ten. AADT on IL-53 is nearly 160,000 around the I-90 interchange and tapers to about 70,000 at the north end. http://www.dot.il.gov/trafficmaps/adt_chicago.pdf

  • JKM13

    Well if its going to happen, maybe they can do something to reduce the noise/exposure to elements on the stations in the middle of the Kennedy. Would love to know the decibel level on the platform at Irving or Montrose some days.

  • Chicagio

    I agree, is there any better example of a failed opportunity than the Jefferson Park station where you could have a great bus-metra-EL intermodal transfer point? (Hell it even has good highway access to the edens & kennedy)

  • Kevin M

    Isn’t there already a North Ave. enterance on the north side of the street? Or, is that exit-only currently? I agree that a turnstile, like that on the west side of the Western station, makes a lot of sense for Damen.

  • Kevin M

    I *really* hope the California station work includes adding an additional staircase and, maybe, an auxiliary turnstile on the east side of California. This station is a bottleneck for pedestrian traffic during rush hours.

  • I think a problem here will always be that you have people speeding off a freeway (not always, depending on traffic) which makes them go faster for the first few minutes after exiting the high speed roadway.

  • Something else odd about the Jeff Park station is that if you’re coming from the east and NOT on a bus, it’s ridiculously hard to figure out how to even get to the station (assuming you don’t already know). There’s a pedestrian overpass that crosses the highway, but you have to go under and partway behind the Metra station to find it; besides that, it’s walking or biking alongside big busy car-filled streets in a semicircle to loop around and get to the station eventually.

  • Joseph Musco

    1) The 2012 CTA Infrastructure Accessibility Task Force report ranked 1) Damen, 2) California, and 3) Belmont as the NW Blue Line stations most in need of ADA-accessibility. So why is Addison the stop that gets ADA-access?


  • Roland Solinski

    The budgeted amount for Damen is $20M, which is certainly enough to make the station accessible. $20M could be enough to completely rebuild the station like Armitage on the Brown Line, which had similar issues of a restricted site and historic-preservation concerns.

    I think we just have incomplete information about the scope of the work for each station. I’d wait for a more complete description before assuming that Addison is the ONLY station to get an elevator, especially since Addison has one of the lowest budgeted costs at only $5M.

  • madopal

    Yes, but you can design the roads with on/off ramps so that there isn’t foot traffic crossing it. Those ramp crossings are so harrowing, I’m betting it keeps a ton of people from walking to the station.

  • Jakub Muszynski

    I always wish I could talk with friends on the platforms, but it usually ends up being too loud on the platforms on the Kennedy.

  • I am looking into this now (should have started earlier but I didn’t see your comment).

  • In the IATF documents that Joseph links to it is estimated that adding two elevators to Damen would cost $12 million, or about 2.5% of the $492 million project cost.

    Addison is the only station to get an elevator. Full station-specific details have been posted on the CTA’s website.


  • It doesn’t seem like that’s the case. The CTA’s website makes no mention of different doors or a new entrance plan.



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