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North Terminal of 95th Station Opens, Emanuel Touts His Transit Wins

The new sky bridge. Photo: Jeff Zoline

After more than four years of construction, the $280 million 95th Street Red Line station rehab is pretty much a done deal. It replaced the original 1969 structure, built during the construction of the Dan Ryan Expressway, which came to resemble a relic from the Soviet era. The new facility is a sleek Jetsons-esque structure, including two new terminals straddling busy 95th, connected by a futuristic sky bridge.

The south terminal opened last April. On Friday morning Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CTA board chairman Terry Peterson and CTA president Dorval R. Carter, Jr., joined by other government officials, cut the ribbon on the north terminal, marking the substantial completion of the reconstruction project. The station, which provides 24/7 Red Line service and also includes stops for many CTA, Pace, and intercity bus lines, provides service for an average of more than 20,000 commuters a day.

“This a critical milestone in the largest construction project in CTA’s history, one that marks a transformative investment in Chicago’s South Side,” Emanuel said in a statement. “This 95th/Dan Ryan North Terminal and pedestrian bridge add critical components to a transit showcase that continues to create jobs and opportunities, and drives economic development in this community.” U.S. senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and local congressman Bobby Rush also weighed in on the importance of the project for the South Side.

A virtual tour of the station with south-suburban resident Matthew Graegin

Features of the north terminal include:

    • A mezzanine that the city describes as “bright and airy,” with a skylight and clerestory
    • New service and directional signs
    • Safer pedestrian walkways to bus pickup areas and the rail terminal
    • More turnstiles and Ventra vending machines to facilitate customer flow
    • Longer train platform to reduce overcrowding and increase safety
    • CTA Transit Tracker displays and high-def security cameras throughout

The city also stated that there are “additional bike racks” at the north terminal, although the dozens of indoor bike parking spots that existed in the old terminal haven't been replaced. The CTA previously committed to installing “an equal or greater number of racks” at 95th as part of the rehab, so we’ll be sure to let you know if the agency doesn’t follow through with that promise.

Also still in the pipeline for the 95th Street project is $1.3 million worth of public art by Chicago artist Theaster Gates. These include a work in the north terminal titled “an extended song of our people (AESOP),” involving a sound studio with live performances and presentations by DJs, musicians, poets, and other community members, with the programming played through the station’s P.A. system. The second portion of Gates’ project, titled “america, america,” will consist of two large tapestries in the south terminal, made from decommissioned fire hoses, an apparent nod to the African-American Civil Rights movement. The artwork is scheduled to be installed later this year.

Emanuel at the Woodson Library. Photo: James Porter
Emanuel at the Woodson Library. Photo: James Porter
Emanuel at the Woodson Library. Photo: James Porter

Following the terminal opening, Emanuel, who’s not running for reelection, headed to the nearby Woodson Regional Library, where he discussed his administration’s transit accomplishments.

The mayor touted other improvements to the Red Line made during the last eight years, including the $425 reconstruction of ten miles of tracks between Cermak-Chinatown and 95th in 2013.

That project also included the rehabbing of eight stations, including adding new elevators to three stations to make the rail branch fully ADA accessible to people with disabilities.

“One of the crazier things I've said is that we were going to shut down the entire Red Line on the South Side,” Emanuel said at the library. “But we had free bus rides for the entire summer. We hired 500 men and women as bus drivers for the summer. We made those not temporary, but permanent jobs. We were so successful when we cut the ribbon and started the Red Line back up, a lot of people said ‘can we keep the free bus rides?’ That was a one-time deal! It was a Blue [Light] Special in Aisle 4!”

Emanuel discussed how the funding was lined up for the 95th Street station rehab, the most expensive in the CTA’s history. “We showed a video to [then-U.S. Department of Transportation secretary] Ray LaHood,” the mayor recalled. “We showed pictures of kids running between buses. It was not only a bad old system that had opened up when Richard Nixon was president and we put a man on the moon, but it was literally falling apart… Today, we have a system where kids can go from bus to train without risking their lives doing it.”

Aerial view of the two terminals. Photo: city of Chicago
Aerial view of the two terminals. Photo: city of Chicago
Aerial view of the two terminals. Photo: city of Chicago

Emanuel also discussed the city’s efforts to include women- and minority- owned disadvantaged business enterprises as subcontractors for station construction projects. For example, the city says that for the south Red Line track reconstruction, the CTA exceeded its DBE participation goals by working with 39 minority-owned companies. He argued that hiring neighborhood residents to build CTA projects not only creates employment, but also creates role models for local youth. “We'll never know how many children, on the way to school, saw somebody laying wire, somebody laying brick, somebody doing concrete, that looks like him or her, doing things in their own neighborhood.”

In addition, the mayor discussed the CTA’s Second Chance hiring program for ex-offenders, giving a shout-out to maintenance manager Alphonso Johnson, who was hired through the program. “If you don't want an ex-offender to be a repeat offender, I got a four-letter word for you: jobs,” Emanuel said. “[Johnson] made a decision in his life. He said, ‘I don't want to go back to where I started, I want to start on a different path.’ There are hundreds and hundreds of Alphonso Johnsons, and I’m proud that our [2019] budget dramatically expanded our Second Chance program.”

On the other hand, many have argued that Emanuel’s policies, such as closing dozens of schools and mental health clinics in low-income communities, and using the city’s tax-increment financing program to provide tax breaks to corporations and developers at the expense of educational funding and other public needs, have contributed to a spike in crime and incarceration.

Emanuel concluded by saying that he’s looking forward to the future extension of the Red Line to 130th Street. Last month $1.48 million in federal funding was awarded for planning related to that project. “We've been talking about 130th street for way too long,” the mayor said. “The talk has got to come to an end, and the building has got to start.”

Streetsblog’s Jeff Zoline stopped by the station Saturday and spoke with a man who’s been using the 95th Street station since it opened 50 years ago, who said this improvement is long overdue. “The old station was crowded and dirty. The new one is so much brighter, cleaner and more modern."

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