Blue Line would remain open


By Fran Spielman

Date of Publication: May 6, 1999
Source: Chicago Sun-Times


The CTA's Douglas Blue Line will be rebuilt--and will be kept open during construction to avoid ridership losses--thanks to Gov. Ryan's massive public works project.

And the North Central commuter rail line connecting the fast-growing suburbs of Antioch, Buffalo Grove and Vernon Hills to downtown Chicago would be double-tracked, allowing Metra to add 10 more trains a day, under a $60 million allotment for "new initiatives."

Those are among the mass transit projects that will be funded if Gov. Ryan's massive public works program clears the Legislature.

Ridership on the North Central line has increased 126 percent since it was initiated in August 1996, even though the schedule sharply limits commuter options. The last train out of Antioch leaves at 6:37 a.m. The last evening train departs downtown at 5:38 p.m.

A second track would enable commuters to sleep a little later in the morning and work an extra 90 minutes or so in the evening, officials said.

Extensions to the Union Pacific West Line from Geneva to Elburn to service western Kane County and to the Southwest Line to Manhattan in Will County are other new initiatives in the works.

Metra Chairman Jeffrey Ladd is also lobbying for authorization to raise the RTA sales tax by a quarter of a cent to start building a transportation system for the growing number of people who commute from suburb to suburb.

"We now have more people living and working in the suburbs than the city, and there is no inter-suburban service. We have no north-south lines at all," the chairman said.

"One of the lines we've been talking about goes southwest through Grayslake, Barrington and the western edge of DuPage County and into . . . Indiana. That's the rim on the spoke for us. It ties together 12 lines. If you could build a basic grid, you could run buses off the grid and people could get to work without resorting to their automobiles."

The long-awaited CTA funding would pave the way for two sorely needed projects: reconstruction of the Douglas/Cermak branch of the Blue Line and extension of platforms on the Brown Line to pave the way for eight-car trains instead of six-car trains.

Without the infusion of state funds, the Blue Line was in danger of being shut down. The line is currently in such bad shape, trains that normally travel at 55 m.p.h. are forced to slow to 15 m.p.h.

"I could ride my bike faster than the train travels through those slow zones," said CTA Board Chairman Valerie Jarrett, who accompanied Mayor Daley to Springfield Wednesday to lobby for the Ryan package.

The Blue Line project mirrors what was done to the Green Line, but this time the CTA is determined to keep the line open while the work is being performed. The fact that the line is already closed on weekends and late at night should help.

"Our goal is to make it as undisruptive to our customers as possible, but there are going to be some inconveniences," Jarrett said.

The Ryan plan also would reimburse the CTA for the cost of providing reduced fares to senior citizens and students, a sore point with Daley during the administration of former Gov. Jim Edgar.