WASHINGTON PARK — A "once-in-a-generation project" that will also "significantly inconvenience" South Side commuters kicked off at 2 a.m. Sunday, when construction began on the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line.
"More than a 10-mile stretch of railroad is going to be ripped down to the dirt," said CTA President Forrest Claypool at the Garfield Green Line Station Sunday morning. "It is literally building a new railroad."
The Garfield station will serve as a transfer station for commuters who would otherwise use the five Red Line stations to the south.
Anyone who gets on the Green Line, or the temporarily rerouted Red Line that runs toward the Ashland/63 station, can enter the turnstiles for free at Garfield.
Free shuttle buses will allow commuters to connect to the station from the Red Line 63rd, 69th, 79th, 87th and 95th Street stations. Another free shuttle bus is available connecting the Cermak-Chinatown and Roosevelt stations.
The $425-million project will shut down the traditional Red Line until mid-October. The new track would cut travel time from the 95th Street Red Line Station to downtown by 20 minutes. The Red Line 87th, 63rd and Garfield stations are also to be equipped with elevators and handicapped accessibility when the track is reopened.
The Dan Ryan portion of the Red Line "opened when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969," Claypool said. "This is not a small, temporary patch."
In the first five hours of the shutdown, about 1,000 riders took the shuttle buses to and from Garfield, just a fraction of what can be expected Monday, said CTA spokesman Brian Steele.
"It seems to be pretty well organized," said Beatrice Rosie of Chatham, who was making a trip from downtown to 95th Street. "The buses seem to be here."
The changes also caught some commuters off guard.
"This is going to be a long summer," said Zach Beadel, a 21-year-old who lives near the Clark/Division Red Line Station and needed to switch at Garfield to get to 95th Street.
The CTA hasn't released estimates about how many people might take the shuttles, but made sure to "overbuild" the shuttle system such that commuters are never left stranded, Steele said.
Though the Garfield Green Line Station has averaged 1,300 commuters on weekdays traditionally that number might balloon to 10 times that number during the next five months, Steele said.
Claypool said he wouldn't "sugarcoat" what the next five months will mean to South Side commuters.
"There is a significant inconvenience," said Claypool, adding that the CTA would make changes based on commuter experiences. Each station along the Green or Red lines will be staffed by aides for the next five months who would help people figure out how to get somewhere, Claypool said.
"We have to adjust on the ground with the experience on the streets," Claypool said, who urged riders to allow for extra time in their commutes.