School Street after the bypass construction. Credit: CTA

LAKEVIEW — The untangling of the CTA tracks north of the Belmont “L” stop begins this fall, promising faster service on the trains in the future but slower service during the work.

Instead of four tracks, two in each direction, there will be just two, one in each direction. That means Red and Purple lines will be sharing the same tracks, leading to delays as workers rebuild the closed tracks.

It’s all part of Phase One of the $2.1 billion Red and Purple Modernization project in Lakeview, which will also include a soaring bypass that will send Brown Line trains over Red and Purple line tracks north of Belmont. Having all three line crossing in front of each other led to decades of slow downs.

Last week, the CTA hosted two open house meetings at the Center on Halsted to discuss phase one with the community. Representatives from Walsh-Fluor Design-Build Team, RPM phase one contractors and marketing agency PurpleGroup, as well as CTA personnel, answered questions and distributed informational handouts.

The largest capital improvement project in its history, the CTA will completely rebuild the almost century old stations at Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr.

“The stations are going to be bigger, brighter and more modern,” said Tammy Chase, the CTA’s Red and Purple Line Modernization spokeswoman.

Each newly rebuilt station will have broader platforms, better lighting and accessible entrances for people with disabilities. The CTA is also building new support structures and rail tracks.

Another main component of the project’s phase one is the construction of the Red-Purple Bypass, which will alleviate train traffic just north of the Belmont station by carrying northbound Brown Line trains up and over Red and Purple tracks.

“Doing the bypass will reduce delays; it’ll allow you to get on a train more easily, with less overcrowding,” Chase said.

The bypass is expected to be completed in 2021. Fourteen Lakeview buildings have been demolished for its construction.

The CTA negotiated with the building owners, who were protected by the Federal Uniform Act, entitling them to no less than fair market value for the properties and compensation for relocation costs.

“There was some heartburn, certainly,” said Chase. “You know nobody wants to be told, ‘Hey, we want to buy your property so we can build another railroad bridge,’ but people got relocation assistance, they got help to do something else.”  

Upon completion of the bypass, the next step is to rebuild the Red and Purple track lines from Belmont to roughly Newport Avenue and Cornelia Avenue. Construction will straighten out the slight curves in the track line; doing so will prevent trains from slowing down and riders will experience a smoother, less jerky ride.

Newport Street after the bypass construction. Credit: CTA

The $2.1 billion project is being paid for with roughly $1 billion in federal funding and over $600 million from tax increment-financing (TIF) dollars. CTA finances make up the rest.

In 2016, the City Council voted unanimously for a transit TIF district for the project, the first of its kind in the state of Illinois, Chase said.

“It’s different than others in that the money from it cannot be used for any other purpose except for funding this project,” she said. “It can’t go to a new development that’s not CTA related. It can’t go to other CTA projects. It has to go to help pay for this.”

The transit TIF was instrumental in acquiring federal funding, she said.

Red and Purple lines will remain operational throughout the project, but service will be impacted by construction. Riders should expect to experience delays. To keep the lines in service, they will go from a four-track operation to a two-track.

“We’ll take two tracks out of service, so you’ll have one track with purple and red sharing going south, one track with purple and red sharing going north,” Chase said.

The two tracks out of service will be rebuilt. To mitigate delays, the CTA is prepared to set up supplemental bus services.

Clark Street after the bypass construction. Credit: CTA

Daily commute delays aren’t the only thing commuters can expect. Restricted access to personal garages due to construction may pose a problem for some car owners.

“I think in total, we’re going to, at some time or another, be blocking about 55 residents,” said Marcy Jensen, Walsh-Fluor public information support manager.

Walsh-Fluor will provide alternative parking in a fenced in, well-lit lot for those whose personal garages have been compromised, she said. The lot requires a permit and those without one will be towed by a private towing company.

To keep the community informed of impending changes, project representatives have been posting RPM updates and conducting meetings large and small.

“We did nine sidewalk pop-ups the last two weeks,” said Tammy Chase. “We talked to about 1,500 people that way.” The CTA, she said, wants people to know what’s coming and have the opportunity to ask questions. According to Chase, “We want to make sure people feel like they’re getting the information they need.”  

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