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Red Line Reconstruction: The Scramble Begins

By Casey Cora | May 20, 2013 6:15am
  The CTA shut down the Red Line south of Roosevelt early on May 19 for a five-month reconstruction project.
Red Line Shutdown Begins
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CHICAGO — When it’s all over, commuters will have smoother trips, quicker travel times and a modern transportation experience, transportation officials said.

Until then, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

The reconstruction on the Red Line South — 10 miles of train tracks from the Chinatown/Cermak stop all the way south to the end of the line at 95th Street — kicked off Sunday.

At a press conference at 6 a.m. Monday, CTA leaders said things went "smoothly" on Sunday, but they expect things to be bumpy at times for commuters now that the work week has started.

To help wayward riders, the transit agency has sent dozens of workers to affected South Side bus and rail stops.

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.

CTA President Forrest 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.  

Before Monday's rush hour hit, William E. Harper II exited the spruced-up CTA Green Line Garfield stop on his way back home to Hazel Crest.

Harper said he's a vendor at the city's sports venues and typically relies on the Red Line to get to U.S. Cellular Field and Wrigley Field — "so you know I gotta have this," he said.

As for his southbound trip on this second day of the Red Line project, "It's not the nightmare that everyone expected," he said.

In addition to increasing the number of "ambassdors" at rail stops to help wayward commuters and beefing up the trip planner, the CTA has also rolled out new upgrades to its Train Tracker website and mobile app, including a GPS function allowing commuters to find their nearest train stops.

The CTA said the project will close nine stations and replace just about everything — including railroad ties, rails, ballast and drainage systems — on the Red Line's south branch, which runs down the center of the Dan Ryan Expy. and opened in September 1969.

Red Line trains will now use the Red Line tracks as far south as Roosevelt, where they will divert to the Green Line. Southbound Red Line trains will use Green Line tracks to the Garfield stop, where they'll head west on the spur that ends at 63rd Street and Ashland Avenue.

Green Line trains will branch off at Garfield and take the eastern spur to Cottage Grove.

Riders will be able to board trains for either line for free at Garfield during the project,

The CTA will run free shuttles between the Garfield station and the Red Line stops at 69th, 79th, 87th and 95th streets, along with another shuttle that will stop at those four Red Line stops and at 63rd and the Ryan.

Commuters looking to avoid the Red Line hassle altogether have a number of alternative choices, including:

• Metra and the CTA have paired up on a bundle that’s exclusive to South Side commuters. The bundle pairs Metra 10-ride tickets on two lines servicing the South Side — the Metra Electric and Rock Island — with CTA five-day passes. Prices range from $52 to $74, depending on a commuter’s distance from downtown.

• Beginning May 28, the Chicago Water Taxi will increase its round trip service to Chinatown, with daily departures from Ping Tom Memorial Park to a trio of stations along the Chicago River in the Loop.

• The Active Transportation Alliance has compiled tips for first-time bike commuters on its website. The group has helped author a “Red Line South Rider Bill of Rights" outlining their expectations of the CTA.

• Motorists joining the fray should plan accordingly, as IDOT has announced a series of nightly lane closures from 95th to 31st streets on the Dan Ryan so crews can work on the adjacent "L" tracks. The closures are expected to last for the duration of the reconstruction project.