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Do You Know Enough About the Belmont Bypass? Ballot Question Asks

By  Erica Demarest and Benjamin Woodard | August 28, 2014 8:23am 

 The CTA proposed a flyover for the Brown Line to ease congestion, officials said.
Belmont Bypass
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LAKEVIEW — The CTA wants to buy a stretch of Clark Street to make way for an additional "L" track at Belmont, but some Lakeview residents said many people who would be affected by the project knew nothing about it.

"We're trying to raise public awareness" about the Belmont Bypass plan, said Ellen Hughes, a longtime Lakeview resident who successfully petitioned the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to include a question about the plan on November ballots.

Hughes and other neighborhood residents asked the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to include the following question on select 44th Ward ballots:

Has the CTA sufficiently justified the $320 million proposed Brown Line Flyover project and its impact on local homes and businesses?

The question will appear in precincts 20, 36 and 38, according to Jim Allen, a spokesman with the election board. Those precincts are closest to the Belmont "L" station.

The CTA announced in April plans to build another track at the Belmont station, which connects Brown, Red and Purple lines. The $320 million project, which would be funded with federal grants, could alleviate delays.

It also would require the city to buy 16 buildings, partial air rights over two buildings, a vacant lot and two parking lots — including several mixed-used buildings on Clark Street and five residential buildings on Wilton Avenue.

Hughes said she was worried such a large-scale project could devastate the neighborhood — and claims the CTA hadn't done enough to educate area residents about how it would affect businesses and homeowners.

"I don't want something to happen to everybody in Lakeview, and then people go, 'Well, we never knew,'" Hughes said. "We're trying to educate people so they can stand up for themselves."

Hughes joined with other residents on Wilton Avenue, a small street adjacent to the Belmont "L" station, to craft the question.

In order for it to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, Allen said, 8 percent of precinct residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election needed to sign a petition. With more than 100 signatures, the question was approved.

The vote won't have any binding impact, Hughes said, meaning the CTA could move forward with its project even if residents didn't approve. But she hopes public awareness will rally more people against the Belmont Bypass.

"I had a lot of one-off conversations with homeowners and business owners, and quite frankly, I was appalled by the lack of knowledge," said Steve Johnson, who helped launch the petition.

"Nine out of 10 people didn't know anything about the project."

The CTA, in a statement Wednesday, said it had been "extremely transparent and communicative" during this process, including conducting door-to-door outreach and meetings with elected officials, hosting public open houses and holding dozens of community meetings so far — well above and beyond what was required.

"We are in the preliminary stages of this project," the statement continued, "and continue to solicit feedback from the community as we develop this project."

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