The CTA completed the soaring Belmont Bypass, and is now working on the tracks that run under it, including straightening the slight curve in the distance. Credit: Facebook/CTA

LAKEVIEW — Crews began demolishing 100-year-old Red and Purple line tracks in Lakeview on Monday as part of the CTA’s $2.1 billion Red and Purple Modernization Project.

The stretch of tracks between the Belmont CTA station and Cornelia Avenue is being reconstructed as part of Phase 1 of the overall project. Work to rebuild those tracks will begin in February, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced during a press conference Monday.

“This work will not only increase train speeds and improve service reliability and comfort, but implement new closed-deck track structures, which will create a quieter CTA for neighbors and pedestrians,” Lightfoot said.

Construction continues along the CTA Red-Purple Bypass, as seen near Hollywood Avenue and Broadway in Edgewater on Nov. 9, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Currently, the tracks between Belmont Avenue and Addison Street contain a curve that slows train speeds, but their reconstruction will allow trains to more quickly pass through, CTA President Dorval Carter, Jr. said.

“These [tracks] were originally built by the Northwestern Elevated Railroad and opened in 1900,” Carter said. “At more than 100 years old, this elevated track has served multiple generations, and now it is time to rebuild for the next 100 years.”

The work to replace those Brown and Purple line tracks follows the completion of the project’s soaring Red-Purple Bypass, a flyover that allows northbound Brown Line trains to more efficiently skirt the Red and Purple line tracks north of Belmont.

The bypass, which began service in November, eliminates the 115-year-old rail junction among Red, Purple and Brown Line trains just north of the Belmont CTA station, Carter said.

“This allows us to move trains more efficiently and provide more reliable service while reducing delays and overcrowding on the CTA’s platforms,” Carter said. “It is also very importantly increasing our capacity to add additional service during the busiest travel periods.”

More than 10,000 Brown Line trains and half a million people have used the bypass since its completion, Carter said.

Steel framework for the Red-Purple Bypass was installed in November 2020. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney (43rd) praised the CTA improvements and said the improved track conditions will help boost the neighborhood businesses that surround them.

“If we don’t have good public transit, we don’t have a local economy or a city economy,” Tunney said. “I know our [CTA] ridership is down, but our ridership is coming back and we have to continue to invest to not only reduce our carbon footprint, but to really be the economic engine for our neighborhoods.”

The Red-Purple Bypass and track improvements make up one of three components to the modernization project’s first phase.

Phase 1 also involves reconstructing the Red Line’s Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations so they’re larger and 100 percent accessible. That work began in the spring and should be finished by the end of 2024.

The last major component of Phase 1 includes installing a new signal system on 23 miles of track between the Howard and Belmont stops, which will improve train flow and service reliability, according to the CTA.

“The multiphase RPM Project, which is the largest reconstruction project in CTA history, truly represents what we mean when we say we’re going to invest in the lives of our residents through the power of infrastructure,” Lightfoot said.

More information on the Red and Purple Modernization project can be found on the CTA’s website.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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