Alderman Beale Opposes Extending Red Line South on Halsted

95th Street Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

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.

Publicity Works Anthony Beal Campgn Port 121912
Anthony Beale

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.

  • Fbfree

    Given examples around Chicago, I’m not surprised that Alderman Beale is against running an elevated train down Halsted. Most of Chicago’s elevated tracks are exceptionally noisy steel structures, with the exception of the Orange line. It should be clear that concrete elevated structures with noise abatement would be used.

  • what_eva

    It’s not just noise, it’s lack of light and structure overhead even when a train isn’t passing. Lake street is not a nice street to walk down.

  • JacobEPeters

    the link for the Halsted alignment is not the correct file, here is that link:

  • Alex Oconnor

    Much more to do with Land use than the L itself. See 63rd street which was the busiest commercial corridor in the city outside of the Loop prior to white flight and economic devastation of the 1950s-1970’s.

    63rd used to be a great street for business & supported Brooklyn level density

    Halsted is very wide south of the expressway it could easily handle and elevated

  • Fbfree

    To counter the shadowing effect, it’s also important that Halstead is oriented North-South. Both sides of the street will get sun during the day.

  • jared.kachelmeyer

    There isn’t enough room on Halsted to run it at grade down the median?

  • david vartanoff

    Looking at the LPA maps the Eastside option appears to duplicate the alignment of the South Shoe Line either to Hegewisch or a new station across 130th from Altgeld Gardens. For far less than the likely cost of this new from the ground up RR riders would be better off with the the Gray Line . The electrified ROW already exists to Hegewisch. and the MED north of Kensington stops at nearly every crosstown CTA bus line there is. . The service can start as Hegewisch-Millenium Park trains with the Atltgeld Station added as soon as the various EIR studies are done. There is precedent for RTA on this route from several decades ago when South Shore was short of equipment. RTA is already committed to a fare instrument compatible w/CTA–the only ticketing issue is an agreement between the various parts of RTA to accept CTA fares on the trackage in the Gray Line scheme. Building parking lots at stations served by crosstown buses is wrongheaded.

  • Roland Solinski

    The electrified CTA trains can’t run at grade for safety reasons. The short sections of the Brown, Pink, and Purple Lines at-grade only exist due to a historical quirk.

  • Social_werkk

    I knew coming to this blog there would be opposition to all the parking spots. I had no idea there were going to be 2,000(!!!!!!!???!!!) of them. I agree that the focus should be on developing the area with retail and housing, something the South side really needs.

    I also disagree with Beale that extending the retail down Halsted hurts business. I drive the vast majority of my time for transportation needs and I don’t have time to check out local businesses I’m passing while driving in my car. However, when I take transit and walk around, I notice a lot more businesses and make a mental note to stop in. Ugh. I really wish more politicians understood that transit is a plus, not a negative.

  • Ryan G-S

    As others have pointed out, Halsted is pretty wide down there. A modern concrete elevated structure would only cover the middle two lanes, leaving the outer two lanes exposed. It could probably be supported exclusively by center piers in the street’s median. At stations, the structure would probably be wide enough to cover all traffic lanes, but not the sidewalks.

    Aside from the trees in the median, the existing aesthetics down there can’t get much worse. A lot of parking lots and strip malls. The streetscape improvements that result, not to mention the eventual increase in density, would certainly be an improvement.

  • John

    I understand his concern. It’s not like Lake St or 63rd St are desirable places for legal business.

  • Keisha

    The city of Chicago has been talking about this extension for over 30 years now. This is what the city is known for, procrastination. I guess now that they are gentrifying aka n3gro and poor folks removal and revitalizing the whole city of Chicago this project might just move forward. The city is tearing down all of their old, dilapidated, and empty buildings, houses, and schools. They are eliminating food deserts and building brand new unaffordable housing and creating jobs. I just hope that everything works out knowing how bad the crime is and how racially and economically segregated the city is. Hopefully things will get better and some of the old residents can still be able to afford to live in the city once the revitalization’s are done.

    Mayor Emanuel Announces “Opportunity Areas”, As Part of Long-Term Strategic Vision to Support Growth and Development Across Chicago. All of these places are being gentrified.










  • C Monroe

    Why not sink it into a quasi subway style in the median? You could tear out the middle two lanes during construction, dig the trench for the rails and then cap it with lanes and/or median green space.

  • Sink it far enough that traffic on cross streets can cross at-grade? At that point it becomes extremely expensive and probably needs to be roofed. If you’re just sinking it a foot or two, how will traffic on crossing streets get through?

  • John

    You’re going to have to show me the genty in Englewood some time. That place is decades away from gentrification.

  • C Monroe

    I am just making a suggestion as a out of towner. I know it would be more expensive making a ‘subway’ in this area, but the complaints from the businesses about sights and noises would disappear. I looked at the maps And the alternative goes into a less dense area where people would either have to take a car or bus to a station and the ending is at a sewer treatment plant, really? How much more is it really to sink it and cap it then to build a viaduct for trains above the street?

  • Viaduct is much, much cheaper because it’s a simpler construction project with defined margins, especially the modern one-pillar concrete designs the CTA has been using. Not only is the management of the dig site and the reinforcement of the walls more expensive, but anytime you dig up a street you might run into something not on your maps — or even if they ARE on your maps you have to reroute all the services that are currently where your subway needs to go. Power lines, gas mains, sewerage, private equipment … Victorian infrastructure long forgotten … leftover toxic materials …

  • Roland Solinski

    I agree that a viaduct is cheaper, but building the foundations for a massive concrete viaduct over a street runs into many of the same issues with utility relocation and subsurface conditions.

  • We don’t have bedrock in Chicago (at least, not close enough to the surface to do anything much with). If we were a city built on rock, you could dig a trench with backhoes and jackhammers, put platforms in it, build a roof: done.

    We have sludge, however, so once a trench gets deeper than its angle of repose, you have to put in supports to hold back the sludge, and in many cases pressurize the tunnel to keep water out. Workers have to go through airlock after airlock to get to what they’re working on …

    And even in Boston, which has good bedrock for part of the route, the Big Dig’s price tag was massively inflated by dealing with the Victorian abandonware infrastructure (or more recent, but not documented by its installers) underneath and through where they were working. It’s not ok to cause massive blackouts of power, telephone, cable, internet, or gas, just because you’re digging up a street, so every discovery means weeks or months of delay as the service is evaluated, safely rerouted and reengineered, and then you get to start digging/building again.

    A tunnel is by its nature wide and continuous. Footings for a viaduct are punctuated, can be moved a few feet one way or the other if necessary, and don’t take up the whole length of the street, making reroutes many times simpler.

  • urbanleftbehind

    A routing down Halsted, then along the existing ME Electric southwest to Blue Island would be a good idea. I’m sure Metra would not mind the opportunity to divest of this branch. Also I’m not sure of the of a route (the east alternate to Altgeld along the CSS RR) that duplicates service to Kensington and then travels to a burned-out project and an employment area where many employees enjoy discounts on new vehicles.

  • BlueFairlane

    I can’t resist the urge to go all know-it-all here … but the statement that Chicago has no bedrock is inaccurate. Chicago sits on the Chicago Lake Plain, a mixture of glacial till and lake sand that runs as much as a hundred feet deep in some locations, but is much thinner in others. All that sits on 400-million-year-old dolomitic limestone which actually comes to the surface in a number of locations. You can see it for yourself in the old quarry that’s now Palmisano Park along Halsted down around 30th, and there’s supposedly an outcrop that breaks the surface around Fullerton at the Kennedy (though I’ve never been able to find it.) It comes very close to the surface as you move farther south through the South Side neighborhoods and into the south suburbs. You can see it very clearly revealed in aerial photos of the quarry at McCook along I-80. I suspect that limestone is fairly shallow along Halsted on the far South Side.

    This isn’t to say I think this should be a tunnel. I’m just saying a tunnel isn’t as much of an engineering challenge here as it would be, say, along Lake Shore Drive, which sits on a think layer of landfill and saturated sand.

  • Under any of the city we’re talking about, the bedrock does exist but is too deep for practical use in anchoring structures (or keeping sludge out of the top of subway tunnels). Everywhere HAS bedrock, but we might as well not, for construction purposes. There are only a very few places within the city limits that could hit it with a first sub-basement, even with high ceilings on them.

    My mother is a geologist and I grew up with Illinois’ soil-type and rock-depth maps on my dining room wall. Thornton looks shallow because it’s been excavated around, not because the rock is naturally proud of the surface or even basement-depth.

  • BlueFairlane

    I’ll see your mom’s job and raise you my own degree.

    Check out this picture:

    This is an old aerial picture of the former Stearns Quarry, now Palmisano Park at 2700 S. Halsted. The large blob of white shown in the photograph is the dolomitic limestone that underlies most of Chicago, part of the Niagara Formation (that same formation the falls pours over far to the east.) You’ll notice in this photograph that the limestone is practically at the surface. If you go to Palmisano Park, you can see it for yourself. This isn’t because it’s “been excavated around.” You can find photographic evidence of this near-surface rock in a number of historical photographs, including those showing the excavation of the Sanitary & Ship Canal. You can find it for yourself if you go looking for it. This rock remains fairly shallow, with some exceptions, all along Halsted stretching south toward the suburbs.

    Now, there are parts of the city where the rock is buried … the Niagara Formation is a giant ring, locally forming an escarpment that drops off to the east at the lake, and there’s a lot of glacial sediment deposited in places inland. To the west and southwest, ancient glacial outflows gouged valleys in the rock. Interestingly, one of the parts of town where this rock is most deeply buried is around the Loop, where the subway tunnels for the Blue and Red Lines run. Chicago engineers figured out how to work around that long ago, as every skyscraper rests firmly on the bedrock. You’ll see it at the bottom of the hole they dug for Calatrava’s Spire.

  • Anne A

    Teeny tiny pockets. Same could be said for La Villita. Decades away, indeed.


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