AVONDALE — A multi-million-dollar project will bring an elevator and other upgrades to Avondale’s Belmont Blue Line station, which locals say has suffered from a lack of accessibility for too long.
The Belmont station, 3355 W. Belmont Ave., is among three Blue Line stations set to receive accessibility improvements thanks to an influx in federal funding.
Chicago was awarded $185 million from the federal government to make CTA and Metra stations accessible under a $1 billion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last year. Of that, $118.5 million will go toward modernizing the Belmont, Irving Park and Pulaski Blue Line stations, according to the CTA.
Besides elevators, those stations are getting ramps, signs and other features to meet modern accessibility requirements.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth pushed for the funding.
“It’s absolutely urgently needed,” Duckworth told the Tribune. “This is going to be a significant investment in making sure that our mass transit stations will become fully accessible to all.”
Work on the Belmont Blue Line station is expected to begin in 2025, a CTA spokesperson said.
The spokesperson didn’t answer specific questions about the project, including if construction will limit access to the station, but they said more details will be released as the project takes shape.
The Belmont, Irving Park and Pulaski Blue Line stations are among 42 CTA train stations that are not compliant with the Americans with Disability Act, according to the CTA.
Avondale neighbors and community leaders have long bemoaned the Belmont station’s setup. Many were frustrated about the station’s $17 million revamp a few years ago, the centerpiece of which was a bold blue canopy over the main entrance.
Lauded architect Carol Ross Barney, known for designing the Chicago Riverwalk, said she designed the canopy to look like a “big, blue waterfall.” The project also included LED lighting, fresh paint, electrical upgrades, repaved surfaces and signs to speed up bus boarding.
Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the time the new look of the station “sends a message of strength of our neighborhoods.”
But riders complained the interior of the station looked much the same and questioned why the CTA didn’t pursue much-needed infrastructure upgrades, like an elevator.
“I think, rightfully, a lot of people in the community felt like this was simply an aesthetic improvement and felt cheated, like the improvements should’ve gone further,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), whose ward includes the station.
At the time, CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr. said the agency didn’t have the money to install an elevator, which would cost more than $70 million due to the configuration of the station.
Not long after the renovation, water was seen leaking from the canopy during a heavy rainstorm, further angering neighbors. The CTA said it’s not unusual for new structures to experience minor issues and repair work was covered under warranty at no cost to the agency.
Liz Muscare, of the Avondale Neighborhood Association, said her group has been banging the drum for an elevator since 2019. The station’s escalator doesn’t always work, which only leaves the stairs, Muscare said.
“I couldn’t even imagine [using the station] when my knees went bad in the last six years,” Muscare said.
Longtime Avondale resident and CTA rider Carter O’Brien called the upgrades “long overdue.” Ramirez-Rosa agreed.
“It’s the culmination of the community raising its voice,” he said. “I’m really happy that Sen. Duckworth heard the concerns from our community, championed this and delivered that funding for a really important improvement.”
The CTA is trying to get funding to meet its goal of making all train stations accessible by 2038.
“This is the first of several more grants CTA will be pursuing through this new federal funding program, which is the first of its kind in history and would not have been possible without the perseverance and support of Senator Tammy Duckworth,” Carter said in a news release.
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