The CTA Just Turned 70 – Here’s a Rundown of Their Big Upcoming Projects

A historic 4000-series train serving the new Washington/Wabash station last Sunday. Photo: CTA
A historic 4000-series train serving the new Washington/Wabash station last Sunday. Photo: CTA

On Sunday the CTA celebrated the 70th anniversary of the launching of the agency as the owner and operator of what is today’s CTA bus and ‘L’ train service. The festivities included live music by subway buskers, vintage bus and train rides on the agency’s Heritage Fleet around the Loop, and an appearance by Lee Crooks, the voiceover artist who records the announcements for the ‘L’.

After its creation by the Illinois General Assembly to consolidate several private transit companies that ran various transit services in Chicago, the CTA began operating the city’s buses, streetcars and trains on October 1, 1947. In honor of this milestone, here’s a rundown of major infrastructure projects currently in progress or on deck for the transit system.

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A bus from the CTA’s “Green Limousine” era at a Loop Link station. Photo: CTA

Your New Blue: This ongoing $492 million overhaul of the Blue Line O’Hare branch includes rehabs of stations built as far back as 1895, including the addition of elevators and public art at some stops, and the elimination of slow zones to cut up to five minutes off the trip from the Loop to O’Hare. Work on the stations at Damen, Western, California, and Irving Park through Cumberland is completed, while projects at Grand, Chicago, Division, Logan Square, Belmont, and Jefferson Park are ongoing.

Last month the CTA announced that Walsh Construction was awarded the $30.8 million contract for renovations to the Belmont and Jefferson Park stations. The $17 million Belmont project, in the gentrifying Avondale neighborhood, will get a large, Jetsons-esque architectural canopy for the terminal, and prepaid bus boarding will be implemented, but there are no plans for making the station wheelchair accessible anytime soon. The CTA says adding elevators at this location would cost an additional $70-90 million.

The new station canopy planned for the Belmont Blue Line station. Image: CTA
The new station canopy planned for the Belmont Blue Line station. Image: CTA

Highlights of the $25 million Jefferson Park rehab will include new canopies for the bus terminal and train station entry, and reconfiguration of the bus bays to better accommodate people with disabilities. The station is already wheelchair accessible. Work for both stops is expected to begin in early 2018, with construction wrapping up at Belmont in late 2018, followed by the completion of work at Jeff Park in 2019.

Wilson station rehab: This $203 million reconstruction project is converting the stop into a double-platform facility that will serve as a transfer between the Red and Purple lines. The new main station house opened last month, complete with an escalator and elevator. Large curving translucent platform canopies are completed, and work is slated to wrap up this year, including the opening of the second platform, the restoration of the 94-year-old north station house, the opening of a new entrance on Sunnyside, and unveiling of public art by Sri Lankan-British artist Cecil Balmond.

The canopies are completed, and the future northbound platform is almost finished. Photo: John Greenfield
The new Wilson platform canopies are completed, and the future northbound platform is almost finished. Photo: John Greenfield

95th Street/Dan Ryan station reconstruction: Work began on this $280 million project in fall 2014 to improve one of the CTA’s busiest stations, which serves the Red Line and many CTA, Pace, and intercity bus lines. A new south terminal is currently being built, with work scheduled to wrap up early next year, and the north terminal renovation is slated for completion in late 2018. The new station will include art by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, and officials have promised it will be “bright, airy, and light-filled.”

Garfield Green Line improvements: In September the CTA also awarded the $25.9 million contract to renovate the Garfield Green Line station, the oldest train stop in Chicago, to Walsh Construction. The project, which will cost a total of $50 million, is scheduled to begin in 2018 and be completed by 2019. The initiative will restore the original station house on the south side of Garfield Boulevard and will also include elevator and escalator upgrades and extensions to the platform canopies. Theaster Gates is partnering with the University of Chicago to design improvements to the inside of the old station house and the streetscape.

Before and after views of the Garfield Green station. Images: Google Street View, CTA
Before and after views of the Garfield Green station. Images: Google Street View, CTA

New Damen Green Line infill station: In February the city announced that it will build a $50 million Green Line infill station at Damen and Lake. Construction was slated to begin in 2018, and the station is scheduled to open in 2020. It will serve the United Center and the Kinzie Industrial Corridor, plus Near West Side and West Town residents.

The Red and Purple Modernization project: The day before President Obama gave his farewell speech at McCormick Place, his administration announced a parting gift for Chicago: about $1.1 billion in grants that, along with roughly $1 billion in local money raised via a new “transit TIF” district, will pay for the first phase of the CTA’s Red and Purple Modernization Project, a much-needed overhaul of these ‘L’ lines north of Belmont. Phase one includes rebuilding the tracks from Lawrence to Howard, upgrading signals, and reconstructing the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stations to make them wheelchair accessible.

Rendering of the Belmont Flyover. Image: CTA
Rendering of the Belmont Flyover. Image: CTA

The project also includes the $570 million Red-Purple Bypass, better known as the Belmont flyover, an overpass designed to eliminate conflicts between Red, Purple, and Brown Line trains just north of the Belmont station. The agency says the bypass will allow them to run 15 more trains an hour between Belmont and Fullerton during rush periods, which will be crucial for addressing overcrowding on the Red Line as the north side’s population grows.

The South Red Line Extension project: A year ago the CTA released an Environmental Impact Study that was the next major step towards extending the Red Line south from the 95th Street terminal to 130th Street in Altgeld Gardens, something that the city has been talking about doing since the Richard J. Daley era. The transit agency has determined that the best route for the extension would be to run the tracks west on 95th Street to Eggleston Avenue (400 West), and then south along an existing Union Pacific-owned freight railroad right of way. Four new stations would be built at 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Ave at 116th Street, and on 130th Street, at approximately 950 East.

The city has said that the extension could be built within a decade, with work starting by 2022, but the big question is where the money would come from. The CTA projects that the project would cost about $2.3 billion, and it looks like federal funding for transit may be scarce under the Trump administration.

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  • Cameron Puetz

    Even with the recently built Morgan station and the new Damen station, the Harlem branch of the Green Line still has very long gaps between stations. Including so few stations when that line was rebuilt is a mistake we’re paying for with service gaps and more expensive infill stations.

  • Joshua Heffernan

    Yeah. Another station should be added at Western. The real issue hampering development on the near west side is the absurd sea of parking lots around the United Center though.

  • Tooscrapps

    The only real missing one is Western.

    Most everywhere else is 1/2 mile, which is more than adequate. These were historically industrial areas and don’t have high enough density to justify more stops.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Agree that Western is the last remaining gap. Morgan replaced a station that was removed during the 1994 shut down and rebuild of the Green Line and Damen seems like it would have been obvious to add a station during the rebuild to serve the then under construction United Center. I’m glad they’re being added now, but not adding them earlier and cheaper during the rebuild seems like a missed opportunity.

  • Tooscrapps

    You just said it still has very long gaps. Now you say it doesn’t.

    I agree though, but it was a different time then. Still can’t believe they tore down the Green Line to Jackson Park.

  • Chicagoan

    The West Loop development boom will reach the Pink Line tracks between the Eisenhower and the Green Line before we know it, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens after that. The Blackhawks & Bulls training facilities are welcome, as well as Malcolm X’s new campus, but there’s a lot of surface parking associated with the United Center and I don’t see it going away anytime soon. I’d like to see a garage built, perhaps that could allow the powers that be to sell off a few lots.

  • Joshua Heffernan

    I wonder if it would be possible for the city to do some sort of joint deal with Bulls. If they built even a three story parking structure south of the UC, they could eliminate all of the lots north of madison. Imagine what could be done with 5 square blocks of land, a mile and a half from the loop, right next to two el stations.

  • First: Someone is banking land around the UC. A lot of simply empty lots waiting I suppose for a full block of lots before converting to an actual parking lot. Either there is not enough parking now or someone thinks there isn’t.

    Second: Close Warren Blvd to create new parking for 3: coming next.

    Three: build dense three story (or higher) narrow apartment blocks with retail first floors along the current edges of the remaining super blocks leaving the parking in the center of the blocks.

    The idea is to create urban facades along the remaining streets with housing and retail. In the back of these narrow buildings are the parking deserts surrounded on all sides. Also usable for parking for the retail most of the time. Maybe eventually the parking will be covered for whatever, or maybe something will evolve.

    No parking on the streets and maybe dedicated bus lanes & or bike lanes for the remaining streets.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Unfortunately, the United Center owners have no incentive to sell the parking lots that surround the arena. The parking is a significant revenue source for them. If new bars and restaurants were constructed where there are currently just parking lots, the UC would lose money on concession revenues. But most importantly, most of the parking lots are encompassed in the PD 522 zoning, which restricts uses to those associated with the operation of the arena. Can’t imagine any reason the local alderman would get energized to persuade the City Council to revise the current zoning, given that the UC makes up a significant portion of the tax base in the area.

  • neroden

    That was such a disgrace; my grandmother fought against that teardown. It was done by one well-connected “Reverend” named Brazier, who didn’t want the L in front of his palace (I mean church). Horrible.

    They need to rebuild the Jackson Park Green Line and connect it to the Metra station.

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