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CTA is wrapping up RPM Phase One, but opportunities are being missed

Depictions of the four new stations: Lawrence, Bryn Mawr, Berwyn, and Argyle. Image: CTA

This week, the Chicago Transit Authority announced that the final stage of the Red and Purple Modernization Phase One Project will begin this summer. Specifically, the transit agency is wrapping up the reconstruction of the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stations to upgraded, wheelchair-accessible facilities, and the CTA will start reconstructing southbound Red and  Purple tracks. Community meetings about the project will happen on June 21 and 22 – see the bottom of this post for details.

"By starting the last major phase of this modernization, CTA is moving closer to providing customers with smoother, more reliable rail service, as well as fully accessible Red Line stations with elevators and escalators, wider platforms, and other amenities," the CTA said in a press release. "CTA also reaches a significant project milestone by completing what will be the new northbound Red and Purple Line tracks in summer 2023."

The $2.1 RPM Phase One Project is taking place within two stages. Stage A, rebuilding the track structures between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr, has taken place between 2021 and 2023. The upcoming phase is Stage B, and an official start date for Stage B has yet to be announced, but the CTA says it will be soon.

The Bryn Mawr station before and after recreation. Images: CTA
The Berwyn station before and after recreation. Images: CTA

Among the upcoming service changes during Stage B, the temporary rail station locations at Bryn Mawr and Argyle built during Stage A will close when the Stage B temporary stops open. The new Bryn Mawr temporary station will be southbound-only due to a lack of space to build a platform to accommodate northbound riders during construction. Northbound commuters can board a southbound train at Bryn Mawr, ride south to Argyle, and then transfer to a northbound train. Or else you can use the Thorndale Red station a quarter mile north of Bryn Mawr to board a northbound train.

Walsh-Fluor, CTA’s contractor, will demolish the two westernmost tracks of the southbound Red and Purple line and build a new track support column on the west side of the CTA track structure. Besides that, Walsh-Flur will build a new track structure via an overhead gantry system that the CTA says should minimize community impacts. They will also drill deep shafts to create new foundations for the tracks and add support columns on top of them.

"We continue to work hard to improve the Red Line, from rebuilding century-old infrastructure to extending the Red Line on the Far South Side to expand access to transit," said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. in a statement. "The RPM project is an important part of our commitment to making the entire CTA rail system fully accessible. I look forward to opening the new Red Line stations with elevators and escalators for our customers."

The current and new Argyle station. Images: CTA
The current and new Argyle station. Images: CTA

"We applaud CTA's work on the Red and Purple Modernization Project and are glad to see forward progress while keeping the project under budget," David Powe, the director of planning and Technical Assistance at the Active Transportation Alliance told Streetsblog. "However, we urge the agency to consider temporary bus lanes to ease traffic and service disruptions. This would ensure that the modernization project benefits all residents." 

Fabio Göttlicher, a member of the grassroots transit advocacy group Commuters Take Action, told Streetsblog his organization is excited about the upcoming construction, especially since the project's first phase was largely on schedule and budget, and wished the CTA the best of luck. "Speedy and quiet operations with more modern and accessible facilities should be the standard on all 'L' lines."

However, Göttlicher said his group is disappointed by the new station's platform designs. "A complete overhaul of the track infrastructure would have been a good opportunity for CTA to pilot some modern technologies like automatic train operation and platform screen doors. Both of these would further improve the reliability and safety of the system and are a de-facto standard on all new rapid transit construction around the world. This is a huge missed opportunity from the CTA. Plans for these upgrades are also missing from the South Side Red Line Extension, so it seems like the CTA will continue its legacy of almost museum-grade operating practices."

Commuters Take Action would also have liked to have seen a wall or enclosure to protect riders from the elements better, Göttlicher said. He added that the CTA needs to improve its service as the Red, Rurple, and other lines are experiencing longer and less predictable wait times. That way, any upgrades done to the track wouldn't be in vain.

Stage B community meetings June 21-22, 2023

Meetings will be held in person and will be recorded and posted on the CTA website. Register for either meeting here:

Lawrence and Argyle stations: Wednesday, June 21, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church, 5649 N Sheridan Rd., 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations: Thursday, June 22, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church, 5649 N Sheridan Rd., 6 to 7:30 p.m.

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