The biggest job in CTA history: $2.1 billion Red-Purple Line project starts this fall
The CTA is waiting for permits to start major construction on its Red and Purple Line modernization project, but plans to begin the work early this fall, officials said Thursday.
In the meantime, the agency is letting Lakeview residents, local business owners and riders know what to expect before the biggest job in its history. The $2.1 billion job will not be finished until 2025.
“It’s very important to me that the community understand what we’re doing,” said CTA President Dorval Carter, speaking at a media briefing Thursday that took reporters on a tour of the construction area. The agency has held hundreds of community meetings and has been handing out business cards and information pamphlets to make sure people know what’s coming, Carter said.
The first part of the project will involve digging 70-foot-deep holes to prepare for new track foundations for the Red-Purple bypass, which will carry northbound Brown Line trains over Red and Purple Line tracks north of the busy Belmont station. The bypass will replace a 112-year-old rail junction that carries about 150,000 riders every weekday.
The bypass is the best-known and most controversial part of the project, since it will mean a tall bridge over the current tracks and a change to the Lakeview skyline.
But also crucially important to CTA traffic flow is the rebuilding of the Red and Purple Line bridge that runs beneath the planned bypass, said Chris Bushell, the CTA’s senior vice president for infrastructure.
Right now, both the northbound Brown Line tracks and the Red and Purple Line tracks just north of Belmont curve back and forth, like the letter “S.” Riders on the lines can feel the slowly moving trains jerk around on the curves that frequently need maintenance.
The reconstruction work will straighten the tracks.
Riders curious about what is being fixed can go to the north end of the Belmont station platform to see the tangle of tracks and switches, the red lights that stop Red and Purple Line trains and the swiveling track formation.
The new bypass will be built just east of the current northbound Brown Line track, and will be about the height of a four-story building.
Both the bypass and the new Red-Purple bridge will have a closed, concrete base instead of an open track bed, which will mean the “L” will be a lot quieter, Bushell said. “Now it’s so noisy when you’re underneath it, you can’t hear yourself think,” he said.
Making the changes will allow the CTA to run trains more frequently on the Red Line, because the trains won’t have to slow down as much on curves and Red and Purple Line trains won’t have to stop to let the Brown Line trains through, Bushell said.
“It’s not just a North Side issue …” Bushell said. “It will improve capacity throughout the whole system.”
Service will continue on all lines during construction, though Red and Purple Line service will sometimes have to be reduced from four tracks to two between Belmont and Newport Avenue, CTA officials said.
Carter recalled that Bushell first came to him to talk about the need for the project back in 2007, so it has been discussed by the agency for a long time. The CTA is paying for it through a combination of federal funds and tax-increment financing.
Construction of the bypass and track realignment and reconstruction will take place between this fall and the winter of 2024. Reconstruction of the Red Line stations at Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr, along with the rebuilding of six miles of track, viaducts and other structures between the stations, will begin in late 2020 and continue through spring of 2024.
The CTA also will put in a new signal system along the corridor to allow for more trains and more reliable service, the agency said. That work will start in early 2021, and continue through early 2025, the CTA said.