Closing the CTA Red Line


CTA CEO Forest Claypool (left) speaks to activists including Willie “Jr” Fleming. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Train commuters recently expressed grave concerns about the Chicago Transit Authority’s plans to completely close nine South Side Red Line ‘El’ stops for five months in spring 2013:

“I want guarantees that our voices will matter, as opposed to you opening up your ears for this evening and then doing whatever you want to do anyway,” declared one woman who attended the first public hearing on the CTA’s plans at Kennedy-King College Gymnasium at 6343 S. Halsted St., on June 21, 2012. This woman was one of a small but determined group of community residents who came out and voiced their opinions to CTA Chairman Terry Peterson and CEO Forest Claypool.

The woman speaker added that the CTA’s Green Line reconstruction some years ago was “a fiasco” in which promised services were never delivered and some stations were never restored. “We were promised one thing and got another,” she said.

During the 5-month closure, crews will work on the stations as well as the tracks from Cermak-Chinatown to 95th/Dan Ryan, replacing ties, rails, third rails and the drainage systems. The CTA’s rationale for completely closing the Red Line for this time period is to avoid the additional expense that would come from doing the project incrementally as well as inconveniences such as additional commuting time for riders, crowded trains, frequent schedule changes and multiple reroutes. CTA officials also indicated that an extended project would have fewer community jobs and no extensive shuttle bus service.

CTA Chairman Terry Peterson. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.


Claypool and Peterson claimed that when the project is done, it will provide numerous benefits to Red Line riders, including having faster, more reliable service as well as new elevators at the Garfield Boulevard, 63rd Street and 87th Street stops.

But there was a lot of skepticism expressed during the public comments. One elderly white woman from the North Side declared that the CTA’s plans for the Red Line were “a pretty racist idea.”

Some were annoyed because of the lack of aldermen in attendance. Only Ald. Pat Dowell (3) was in attendance along with three other representatives.


CTA Officials Explain

The Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line is more than 40 years old, according to CTA officials, and Peterson declared it needs a full replacement because of the current track conditions.

He said that the affected Red-Line stations, which are all in low-income communities of color, were in “worse” conditions than those on the North Side.

After the meeting, I asked Peterson and Claypool why conditions were worse on the South Side?

“The only thing I can answer is the fact that it opened up in 1969,” Peterson said, adding that after the project, riders would be able to get downtown 20 minutes faster than they do now.

“There’s a lot of poor maintenance and disinvestment that should have never happened,” Claypool said. “But we have a new administration and we have the opportunity to right a wrong and create a modern railroad with modern rail cars and modern amenities, modern stations.”


Employment Concerns

During the public comment period, several people who spoke, including those from Voices for the Ex-Offenders (VOTE), expressed doubt that any ex-felons would be hired for the Red Line project, claiming that jobs would go to politically connected contractors instead.

Other advocates had different agendas. Jo Anna Brown-El from Imagine Englewood If, an organization training and providing employment to low-income people, wanted guarantees that Black workers would be hired for the project but Peterson just asked for her information and said someone would stay in contact with her.

One unemployed man, a licensed cosmetologist with multiple certifications, asked that Claypool “please not utilize in your project labor agreement, the companies that have a track record of not hiring the folk in the places where they are doing the business.”

Claypool said CTA would do everything “legal” to maximize both employment and sub-contracting opportunities for people who live within the affected areas on the South Side.


Public Audience Suggestions

During the public comment period, people suggested CTA create a labor agreement with the community, create a community liaison to ensure contractors for the project are in compliance with federal law, and to ensure qualifying Black workers get construction jobs under the Red Line project. Others wanted more train stations, extensions of some bus routes and the restoration of some express busses.

Other public recommendations included setting aside a number of slots for low-income people to be trained to work on the project and having inspectors ensure the smooth operation of the bus routes.

Community activist Hal Baskin suggested CTA put a Metra train stop in the low-income Englewood community to help commuters during the Red Line reconstruction project.

Baskin added that small business would be “greatly hurt” by the CTA Red Line project and said that there was need for “some good transparency” in the CTA’s plans.
“We need to put the blame where it needs to be and stop these circus meetings,” Baskin said.

CTA Plans

Willie “JR” Fleming, a former Cabrini Green public housing resident who also works with a Chicago-based United Nations liaison group, recommended that the CTA come up with a “subsidized transportation plan” for drivers being “inconvenienced” by the Red Line project.

“Anybody who is inconvenienced by the traffic should receive some type of gas subsidy. We can always find some administrative and operations costs. But we never find money for the people,” Fleming said.

Another person suggested the CTA officials “bring back the Sunday Super Transfer,” where people could ride all day, as a “good will incentive.”


Free Bus Shuttles

During the time of the project, Peterson said ‘El’ trains are expected to be rerouted south of Roosevelt via the nearby Green Line tracks use between downtown and Ashland/63rd. Peterson added that 100 more buses would be added to the CTA’s inventory and bus shuttles would be available 24 hours a day. Peterson said the $425 million renovation is part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Building a New Chicago program, part of $1 billion in federal, state and local funding announced in late 2011 by Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn. He also said that four more public meetings on the Red Line project will be held, though he didn’t provide dates or locations.

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