The Chicago Transit Authority is working on a plan to renovate Blue Line train tracks and stations between the Forest Park and Clinton stops, and is seeking feedback from residents of the North Lawndale community on the details of the ambitious proposal.
Representatives of the CTA presented the proposal to the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council's (NLCCC) monthly transportation subcommittee meeting, held at the Douglass Branch Library on June 14. The meeting was arranged by Ald. Michael Scott (24th), who suggested the CTA reach out to the group regarding the plan.
Leah Mooney, director of strategic planning and policy with CTA, and Leslie Boucree, CTA's government and community relations director, detailed the proposed upgrades to the stations, many of which have not seen significant architectural improvement since the 1970s.
The plan would involve reconstructing track from Forest Park to Clinton St. stops, a yard reconstruction at the Forest Park transportation terminal, installing a turn back track west of the Illinois Medical District and modernizing several stations.
"We would also like to add power substations to be able to have at capacity at the branch where they are deteriorated," said Mooney.
The total cost of the project has yet to be determined since it is still in the early planning stages and no budget has been approved. Some early and rough cost projections, however, peg initial costs at somewhere between several hundred million and a billion dollars. Mooney says that the higher cost is due to the yard and terminal reconstruction and the work on the Clinton station, which is "a very deep station," he said, and more challenging.
When asked whether the reconstruction would require a full shutdown of the stations affected, Mooney said he was unsure, since elements of the plan would require different timelines.
"It's not necessarily going to be constructed all at once, so we may do the track first and then the station renovations in a piecemeal fashion," said Mooney. "The exact staging of it is unknown at this juncture."
NLCCC member Paul Norrington wanted to know whether or not the project would create new jobs and, if so, how many West Side residents would be hired to do them.
"We haven't looked at that yet, but we have put community hiring in a lot of our previous projects," Mooney said. "We want to make that a priority still. But that typically happens when the project has a set start for construction and a budget behind it."
Mooney noted that the amount of new job creation would, in large part, ultimately depend on the level of funding the project attracts.
NLCCC member and meeting host Valerie Leonard asked whether the project will allow local artists to display their works within the refurbished stations, similar to the elaborate murals on the stairwell at the 18th Street Pink Line station.
"Adding a Local Art component to the proposal would give artists an opportunity to compete to have their work displayed within the project," said Leonard.
"Public art will likely be part of it, but it's not something we have necessarily accounted for, as it is usually not a huge part of the budget," said Mooney. "But it will likely be included."
The desire by CTA to make improvements to the Forest Park branch has been in the works since 2013.
A Blue Line study by the Authority concluded that the 55-year-old Forest Park branch was "beyond its useful life." There were also two high profile collisions along the line, one at the O'Hare station in 2014.
There will be an open house available to the general public to learn more about the project. Residents can voice opinions and ask questions about the project on June 29 from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Altgeld Park Fieldhouse, 515 South Washtenaw, East Garfield. Along with asking questions, community members will have the opportunity to study design concepts and hear more about the scope of the project.
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