By Jon Hilkevitch
TRIBUNE TRANSPORTATION WRITER
Date of Publication: September 11, 1998
Source: Chicago Tribune
Reviving a long-dormant program to consolidate commuter rail stops in the Loop, the city hopes to begin construction as early as spring on a transit project that will permanently close the CTA's State-Lake and Madison-Wabash elevated stations and replace the Randolph-Wabash facility with a "super station."
Combining function, aesthetics and the need to replace "L" structures that date to the 1890s, the $29 million project will result in more streamlined CTA operations: two stations on the Wabash Avenue leg of the Loop, two on the Wells Street side, one on the Lake Street portion and two on the Van Buren Street border.
"We're essentially planning to build three stations in one and trying to get it done for the price of 1 1/2," said Stan Kaderbek, chief engineer for bridges and transit in the Chicago Department of Transportation.
The new station, sporting main entrances and transit card turnstiles on Randolph, Wabash and Washington and a full-length covering to protect commuters from the elements, will become the third-busiest station in the CTA's 142-station system, officials said. It would continue to serve commuters on the Brown, Green, Orange and Purple Lines, with a pedway connection to the Red Line subway one block away.
The design of the new station, which is undergoing final review by officials from the city, the CTA and the Greater State Street Council, is described as a traditional, but modernized version of the Madison-Wabash station.
As part of the construction work, the entire elevated structure will be rebuilt from Lake to Washington Streets. Supports down the middle of Wabash will be replaced by columns anchored along the curbs.
"The reaction we've received (from merchants) has been very positive," said Brent Minor, vice chairman of the Greater State Street Council. "The CTA deserves credit for working to improve the efficiency of trains running around the Loop, and our members are looking forward to a new vista after the shed (elevated platform enclosure) over State-Lake is removed."
CTA riders disembarking at the new station will be able to exit on the south side to an extended Benton Place, an alleylike street near the Chicago Theater that will provide access to State Street and also lead to the theater district corridor being developed north of Randolph.
The number of train riders beginning their trips at the State-Lake station--the 16th-busiest "L" stop and the gateway to the Loop--has declined in recent years, in part because fewer CTA buses now travel along State Street.
Officials said a tax-increment financing agreement, currently being finalized, will pay for 20 percent of the project. The rest of the money will come from the federal government, thanks to a grant agreement City Hall reached with the Federal Transit Administration. The federal portion is in the form of unspent funds from the canceled downtown circulator trolley project that was aimed at easing congestion in the Loop, linking the downtown to Navy Pier and McCormick Place. The TIF money is being used to leverage the federal funds, officials said, adding that the funding would also be used to complete the renovation of the Jackson-Van Buren subway station and to reconstruct the Grand-State and Chicago-State subway stations.
The CTA originally had proposed to replace the State-Lake station, which is in extremely poor structural condition, with a larger facility at the same location in order to maintain a direct connection to the Red Line subway. But a number of State Street merchants objected, complaining that an expanded station would clutter up the business district. In addition, the reconfiguration of State Street two years ago and the fact that the historic Page Brothers Building is on the southeast corner of State and Lake would have limited the design options for the new station.
"Rather than building a half-baked station at State and Lake that wouldn't give us what we need, it just makes more sense to create a super station on Randolph and to use a pedway to connect the subway with the other elevated train lines," Kaderbek said.
"The whole scheme is the realization of a 15-year-old vision to consolidate the number of `L' stations in the Loop," Kaderbek added. "This is a priority for the CTA and it's a priority for us. We are about ready to go."
While officials termed as "marginal" the existing Randolph and Madison stations, which rank 37th and 49th in ridership, respectively, some transit experts expressed concern that many riders who use the stations will abandon the CTA during the yearlong construction period.
"Transit riders don't necessarily switch to other bus or train routes, but simply climb into their cars or forgo certain trips," said Adam Kerman, director of the Transit Riders Authority. "And a very convenient transfer that only requires walking a few feet from State-Lake to the Red Line subway will be replaced by having to walk a full block. Many riders won't do it."