WICKER PARK — The CTA Damen Blue Line "L" stop, which has been closed since Oct. 20 for renovations, is scheduled to reopen at 4 a.m. Monday.
"I'm so excited, I can't wait to come to work on Monday. It will be awesome. I might even shed one tear of joy," said Rob Santel, a barista at La Colombe, which will be will be giving away free coffee to welcome back returning commuters.
Around 7:30 a.m. Friday, there were just two customers inside of La Colombe, a sharp contrast to long lines during mornings when the station is open.
Up the street, Wicker Park resident Melissa Leitz was among a crowd of commuters waiting for the Milwaukee No. 56 bus, which would take the group to the Division Blue Line "L" station. Leitz said she is "very happy" that the station is on track to reopen Monday.
Taking the bus to the nearest "L" stop to get to her finance job Downtown has added about 20 minutes tot he 35-year-old financial consultant's morning commute.
"Mornings are okay; evenings are horrible. It takes so much longer to get home and the buses do not run as much as they do in the morning. I have been walking home from the Western station," Leitz said.
Over at the station, 1558 N. Damen Ave., even the construction workers seemed happy that their job would be ending.
"It has been a long grueling job on a tight schedule," said one construction worker, who declined to be named.
The $13.6 million project includes replacing an old and leaky roof, installing new flooring and a new wood platform, and upgrading lighting, water and sewer systems. New LED signs, featuring the CTA logo, were installed over the tracks late Thursday.
Other station and platform upgrades will include wider gates, more turnstiles, bike racks and eventually public art (to be installed at a later date).
The nine-week closure has been the longest amount of time that the station, built in 1895, has been closed in its history.
When the station reopens there will not be an elevator installed.
Folks with luggage headed to and from the O"hare airport, or toting children in strollers, have either been unable to use the station or have to allow for extra time to get up and down the stairs.
Cody Denney, a 29 year-old Wicker Park resident, has lived just a few hundred feet from the station for the past two years but is unable to use the station because it is not wheelchair accessible. Last week, Denney, who gets around in a wheelchair, was headed past the station and stopped to talk with a construction worker.
"I went up to one guy and said 'It's going to be nice when the elevator gets finished,'" Denney said.
Denney said the construction worker responded by just staring at him.
"I could tell he felt bad. Then I started to laugh and told him, 'I'm just messing with you.' "Denney said.
Denney had originally though the station renovation would include an elevator.
According to a 2013 CTA ridership report, Damen is the O'Hare branch's fourth busiest station, after O'Hare, Jefferson Park and Logan Square.
The Damen station is the only station of the four busiest stations that is not wheelchair accessible.
On Friday, Catherine Hosinski, a CTA spokeswoman, said that making the Damen station ADA complaint "will cost tens of millions of dollars" and would likely require property acquisition and the construction of a new station house.
Hosinski said that there would need to be two elevators added to serve each platform and that the platforms would require widening, which is "extremely difficult given the station’s configuration, historic considerations and surrounding structures."
When asked if there is a timeframe for making the station accessible, Hosinki said, "The CTA remains committed to providing accessibility where feasible; however, there is no timeframe for this work to be performed. More time is needed to thoroughly analyze the highly complex schemes presented for making the Damen station accessible."
Are you a Returning Commuter?
Beginning Monday, Flash Taco will be setting up its taco cart near the station and giving away free chicken, pork and veggie tamales.
The tamales will be offered during the 7 a.m. to 9 am. morning commute and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. evening rush hours for the first three days that the station is reopened, through Christmas Eve.
Stan's Donuts, 1560 N. Damen Ave., will offer one free glazed donut and one free 12-ounce coffee to any customer who displays a Ventra card on the first Monday and Tuesday that the station reopens, all day long.
Glazed and Infused, which has been offering a buy-one-get-one free promotion for "misplaced commuters" who grab doughnuts before heading to alternative routes, is offering one free doughnut and one large coffee to anyone who flashes their Ventra card.
Folks can choose from any of Glazed & Infused's regular menu doughnuts or from five new holiday creations, including the Royal Oreo cake doughnut drizzled with peppermint, the Hot Chocolate Snowball and a spiced eggnog Bismarck.
The Glazed & Infused "Welcome Back" promotion will be offered from December 22-24, only at the shop's Wicker Park walk-up window, in the back of Francesca Forno restaurant, across from the station.
At La Colombe, 1552 N. Damen Ave, anyone who flashes a Ventra card from Dec. 22 to 28 will get a free drip coffee.
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