LOGAN SQUARE — A four-year, $492 million CTA Blue Line project that will overhaul stations, cut travel time from Downtown to O'Hare and allow people to use cellphones in the subway was announced Thursday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The city bills the project as the biggest investment in the O'Hare Branch since it was extended from Jefferson Park to O'Hare 30 years ago, and Emanuel called it essential to the "revitalization" of Chicago's economy.
"If you want a modern economy, you need modern transportation," the mayor said as he announced the project at the Logan Square CTA station.
Among the goals of the plan is to improve stations along the branch and reduce slow zones, with an aim to knock 10 minutes off the trip between the airport and the Loop.
It would do so both by increasing capacity along the line as well as speeds, said Chris Bushell, CTA's chief infrastructure officer.
The Blue Line's O'Hare Branch saw 25 million rides last year, and the number of rides has grown by 25 percent in five years, CTA officials said. The CTA will be adding trains to the route to accomodate the increase in ridership.
Thirteen stations also will receive upgrades and repairs, including a $25 million renovation of the Jefferson Park station, a $20 million renovation of the Damen station and $21 million in improvements at the Logan Square station.
The city also plans to give subway riders 4G cellular service that would cost about $27 million, though some of that money might be recouped from private investments.
The CTA just completed a $425 million overhaul of the Red Line's South Branch, a project that shut down the branch for months but drew rave reviews for its shuttle bus rerouting plan and for hitting its deadline.
The plans for the Blue Line differ in several ways, CTA officials said.
"The Red Line South project was a complete reconstruction," said Brian Steele, an agency spokesman. "This is a collection of smaller projects throughout the entire branch."
A schedule for the projects hasn't been worked out, but officials said riders can expect weekend service disruptions and other delays. Shuttle service may be provided occasionally.
The Blue Line also serves O'Hare International Airport, which CTA President Forrest Claypool called the "economic engine of the region."
"You can't close the line to the airport," he added.
Claypool said the city and the state have been looking at an overhaul of the Forest Park Branch of the Blue Line as well, but that would likely be timed with a future, as-yet unscheduled overhaul of the Eisenhower Expy.
The cost and timeline for the O'Hare Branch project didn't faze regular Blue Line users.
"That would be a really good investment," said Joshua Toledo, a 22-year-old on his way to work at O'Hare. "I use this line every day."
Other project improvements include:
• $49 million in track work, including $30 million toward reducing slow zones on elevated track near Milwaukee Avenue.
• $180 million in signal upgrades.
• $33 million in collective renovations for the Grand, Chicago and Division Blue Line stations.
• $12 million in renovations for the California Blue Line station.
• $5 million in accessibility and platform improvements at the Addison Blue Line station.
• $24 million in collective repairs for the Cumberland, Harlem, Montrose and Irving Park stations.