WASHINGTON PARK — The first wave of workday rush-hour commuters used words like “excellent,” “quick” and “easy” to describe their trip to work Monday, a journey that had many people taking new routes because of the Red Line reconstruction project.
"It's fine with me. [The CTA] has been helpful. They tell you exactly what bus to get on, where. All you have to do is listen," said Sophia Lumpkin, 45, one of many commuters who boarded a Red Line shuttle at the 95th Street station bound for the Garfield Green Line station, which has transformed into a shuttle and rail hub for South Side commuters.
Shuttles will ferry commuters between the Garfield and the Red Line stops farther south for the rest of the Red Line project. At Garfield Boulevard, riders can take either Green Line or Red Line trains north, and anyone boarding a train at the station gets to ride for free during the reconstruction.
The CTA’s project — called the “biggest, most ambitious public works project in the country” by CTA chief Forrest Claypool — will close the Red Line south of the Roosevelt stop until mid-October for the drastic $425 million, 10-mile overhaul.
Many commuters said they expected a big hassle and a lot of last-minute scrambling, but were surprised to see the steady stream of air-conditioned shuttle buses and Loop-bound trains ready to accommodate them.
A CTA spokeswoman said those shuttles would operate in “load-and-go” style during rush hours but would depart on more intermittent schedules the rest of the day.
Some riders were also happy to learn that two legs of the trip — the Red Line shuttles and "L" trains boarding at Garfield — would be free.
"That sounds so good,” West Chatham’s Kisiah Slaughter said during the 10-minute shuttle ride from 79th Street to Garfield.
But not everyone was thrilled with the changes.
Hubert Thompson, of Buena Park, sometimes takes the Red Line to his job in Bronzeville. On Monday, he and other southbound Red Line passengers were asked to exit the train at the Roosevelt stop, part of a CTA plan that reroutes more rail cars to the Loop during the morning hours.
“None of that’s in your publicity,” Thompson shouted at CTA workers stationed at the Roosevelt stop.
Another southbound Red Line train arrived within three minutes.
Despite the new signs and influx of CTA employees in neon vests at train stations and bus stops on Monday, some riders were still left confused about their new routes to work.
"I'm kind of puzzled right now," Andre Moore, a 43-year-old who faces a lengthy commute from Harvey to Skokie, said at the 95th Street shuttle stop.
Even a CTA employee, who didn't want to be named, boarded then quickly exited a Green Line train in favor of the next Red Line train that would take him north to the Howard stop.
"It's confusing," he said.
During a morning news conference, CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson urged commuters to use an online trip planner at the project's official website, redlinesouth.com.
Those without web access can call 1-888-968-7282 (YOURCTA) to get help with travel plans.
Claypool on Monday said the agency will "constantly monitor" bus and rail service for the next five months to ensure it runs efficiently.
"We're ready to make changes, even small ones," he said.
Among the dozens of helpers outside the Garfield stop directing shuttle passengers to trains was Claypool himself.
He said the steady routine of shuttle arrivals and departures would be the norm for the next five months.
"A lot of people have told us their commute has been faster than the Red Line, which of course shows why we need this project," he said.