BRONZEVILLE — Calling the Red Line reconstruction project "wholesale reform and change" for South Side commuters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday said the ambitious $425 million makeover was on schedule and on budget.
"Everybody thought originally — and they still might think we're insane for doing what we're doing — but nobody thought it was possible to completely redo stations, as well as the track, to make sure the communites and neighborhoods are connected," Emanuel said during a news conference at the 47th Street Red Line stop.
The CTA’s project, called the “biggest, most ambitious public works project in the country” by CTA chief Forrest Claypool, closes the Red Line south of the Roosevelt stop until mid-October for a drastic 10-mile overhaul.
Already, crews have removed the vast majority of railroad tracks, ties and gravel ballast from the railway beginning at the Chinatown/Cermak stop down to 95th Street. The shuttered Red Line stops are getting renovated, too.
"Everything out here is being ripped out — the duct banks, the signal system, the wiring. It's being dug down to the bones. It's an unplowed cornfield, and a brand new railroad is being put down in its place," Claypool said.
Much of the work is either being handled by firms based in the city — including the O'Hare-based Terrell Materials, Era Valdivia on the Southeast Side and Downtown's F.H. Paschen, S.N. Neilsen — or larger contractors like the global Kiewit Construction.
Transit leaders said the project's two prime contractors, Kiewit and Paschen-Nielsen, have hired 39 subcontractors under the city's disadvantaged business enterprise program. Together, that's $82.5 million in contracts, with about $54 million going to African-American owned subcontractors, officials said.
WBEZ's Natalie Moore has a breakdown of minority and women-owned firms that were awarded the contracts.
As construction slogs on — there are 18 weeks left — many riders have said the altered commute, including the special express shuttles running Downtown, to the CTA Garfield "L" stop and shuttered South Side Red Line stops, has actually saved them time.
The quicker-by-shuttle travel times have underscored the need for the Red Line project, city leaders have said.
An aging railway "is not what Red Line customers want, and that's definitely not what they deserve," CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson said.
Transit officials have urged commuters to use an online trip planner at the project's official website, redlinesouth.com. Those without web access can call 888-968-7282 (YOURCTA) to get help with travel plans.