Chicago Avenue and Ogden Avenue, West Town
Blue Line: Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway
Address: 800 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Established: February 25, 1951
Original Line: Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway
Previous Names: none
Rebuilt: 2019-20 (renovation)
Station (1951, A/B service annulled after one AM rush period)
Status: In Use
Chicago/Milwaukee is typical of the downtown Dearborn and State Street subway stations. Described at the time as of a "modern design" (really somewhere between art deco and art moderne), the mezzanine station has smooth concrete floors and ceilings and white glazed tile walls (sometimes referred to as "structural glass"). The fare control booths are made of stone walls with a small ventilation grate near the bottom and glass windows on all four sides. Turnstiles were steel.
The island platform has red no-slip concrete floors, curved concrete ceilings and I-beam steel columns. Fluorescent lights and illuminated station signs hanging from the ceilings originally finished the decoration. When compared to the ornate subways of New York, London or Paris (built at least several decades before), these stations and their simple, deco-style designs may seem starkly utilitarian but they are very much a product of their era. Though much of the structural work of the Dearborn Subway subway was concurrent with that of State Street's (which opened in 1943), the Dearborn line's was held up until 1951 due to wartime materials shortages. Even then, it was only open at the north end, with cars forced to turn around at LaSalle/Congress until the south end's completion years later.
Chicago received some signage upgrades in March 2004. During a shutdown of the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway from 2200 hours Saturday, March 6 to 0600 hours, Sunday, March 7, for the installation of telecommunications cables, CTA personnel took the opportunity to install new Green Line Graphic Standard station name signs on the tunnel walls, replacing KDR-style signs installed in the 1980s. Because of the limited time allowed, only the gray-background station name signs themselves were installed at that time; the blue "tabs" to be installed later. In October 2005, the symbol signs on the columns were replaced with new Green Line Graphic Standard versions as well.
Your New Blue: Station Improvements
On December 5, 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn announced a comprehensive improvement plan for the Blue Line O'Hare Branch (including the northern portion of the Dearborn Subway), an overhaul that will provide faster travel times and updated stations while creating more than 1,300 jobs.
The $492 million plan, called Your New Blue, includes several track and station improvement projects along a 12.5-mile stretch of the Blue Line between the Grand and Cumberland stations, as well as upgrades to the signal system between the Jefferson Park and O'Hare stations. The overall Your New Blue program, beginning construction in 2014 and planned to last four years, is a package of several discrete projects ranging from station improvements to track renewal, signal replacement, traction power upgrades, and subway tunnel water mitigation efforts.
Chicago is one of the stations planned to receive improvements under the program. The scope of these improvements -- identical to those also planned for the Division and Grand stations in the Dearborn Subway -- include street-level entry stairway improvements, including new entry kiosks at each stair opening, new granite stair treads and risers, new glazed wall tiles, repainted ceilings, and new lighting. The mezzanine is planned to receive an epoxy finish on concrete floor, new plaster ceilings, new, high-efficiency lighting, and new stainless steel exit rotogates, while the stairs to platform will see the installation of new granite stair treads and risers, repainted ceilings, and replacement lighting. The escalator between the platform and the mezzanine is to be replaced. Planned improvements on the platform include new granite flooring, new stainless steel over concrete block walls, replacement of painted doors with stainless steel, new light fixtures in a steel shroud over platform, and new furniture.1 As part of CTA's enhanced Safe & Secure security upgrades throughout its system, new HD cameras will be installed on both the mezzanine and platform levels, along with new audio speakers on the platform.2
On August 15, 2018, the CTA Board approved a $30 million project to renovate and modernize the Grand, Chicago and Division Blue Line stations. The CTA board awarded the Grand-Chicago-Division Blue Line renovation contract to F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates, LLC. Paschen is an industry leader in infrastructure construction and rehab projects, and has extensive experience in heavy rail transportation, including mass transit, several CTA projects among them.3
To perform the renovation work at the Division, Chicago and Grand stations, some service impacts were required. All stations remained open during the construction period, except for nine weekend-only closures, three at each station. There were also some weekends when one track or the other was closed to accommodate work, requiring trains to run in both directions on the same track through all three stations (the nearest crossovers are north of Division and south of Grand), as well as dozens of such occurrences during overnight periods.
To allow construction and renovation of the spaces within the stations while keeping them open, work was staged to close only sections at a time. The mezzanines were closed off and renovated a portion at a time, along with each street-to-mezzanine stairway and entrance, each of which closed for 42 days each. To carry out the platform renewal work, each station's platform was closed half at a time, longitudinally down the middle. Trains bypassed the side of the platform being worked on, which was barricaded from passenger access to allow the floor topping to be removed and replaced; during these periods, passengers had to "back-ride" (riding to the next stop, exiting and boarding a train back in the opposite direction) or use alternate existing bus services. The original plan for for each half-closure and bypass period to last 3-4 weeks, and while this was the case at Division (the first of the three stations to have the platform deck renewed), it was decided to rearrange the work to allow for shorter periods of back-riding at Chicago and Grand to alleviate crowding and congestion issues that occurred during Division's back-rides.
At 9am, Monday, August 12, 2019, the west street-to-mezzanine entrance stairway at the Chicago Blue Line station, on the southwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue, temporarily closed for 42 days for renovation; at the same time, the southwest portion of the mezzanine was blocked off for renovation. At 5am, Monday, September 30, the street-to-mezzanine entrance stairway on the island in the middle of the intersection of Chicago Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue, and Ogden Avenue, temporarily closed for renovation, along with the north portion of the mezzanine. At 3:30am, Monday, November 11, the island stairway reopened, and the north street-to-mezzanine entrance stairway, on the north side of Chicago Avenue between Milwaukee and Ogden avenues, temporarily closed for work through Saturday, December 21, reopening around 10am.
The weekend of December 13-16, 2019 from 10pm Friday to 4am Monday, the Chicago station temporarily closed. Passengers were directed to use the adjacent stations at Division or Grand, a free bus shuttle between the Chicago and Grand stations, or the #56 Milwaukee bus. Chicago closed again from 10pm Friday, January 3 to 4am Monday, January 6, 2020, and from 10pm Friday, February 7 to 4am Monday, February 10, with the same alternate service available both weekends.
Chicago station's platform renewal began with the O'Hare-bound side of the platform, which closed from 4am, Monday, December 16 to 4am, Wednesday, December 18, 2019, requiring passengers to back-ride. After the aforementioned weekend closure on January 3-6, 2020, work moved to the Forest Park-bound side of the platform, which closed for two days from 4am, Monday, January 6 to 4am, Wednesday, January 8, 2020, requiring passengers to back-ride.
Beginning in mid-January 2020, each street-to-mezzanine stairway closed again, for shorter three-week durations, for the installation of the new entrance enclosures. Work included preparing the foundations for the kiosk structures, including rebar installation and concrete pours. Then, the new steel enclosure was delivered pre-fabricated and installed on-site. At Chicago, the west entrance stairway, on the southwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue, temporarily closed at 9am, Monday, January 13, and reopened around 4:30am, Thursday, February 6. At 9am, Thursday, February 6, the street-to-mezzanine entrance stairway on the island in the middle of the intersection of Chicago Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue, and Ogden Avenue, temporarily closed for installation of its new stairway entrance kiosk; it reopened at 9am, Monday, February 24. At the same time, on February 24, the entrance stairway on the north side of Chicago Avenue between Milwaukee and Ogden avenues, temporarily closed for the installation of its new entrance enclosure, reopening 9am, Friday, March 13.
Installation of new glazed block wall finishes was performed throughout winter 2019-20, taking place at mezzanine level largely as sections were temporarily closed off in conjunction with stair closures as described above. Installation of finishes in the mezzanine and on the platform were largely completed by mid-March 2020, as was tunnel wall repainting.
Paschen had to briefly close individual stairs and sections of mezzanine for brief periods in spring and summer 2020 to complete additional work: from 9am, Monday, April 20 to 9am, Wednesday, April 22 and again from 9am, Monday, May 11 to around 10:45am, Saturday, May 23, the west street-to-mezzanine entrance stairwell, on the southwest corner of Chicago and Milwaukee avenues, and part of the mezzanine near that stair closed for work, while from 9am, Wednesday, April 22 to 9am, Saturday, April 25, the east street-to-mezzanine entrance stairwell, on the island between Chicago, Milwaukee and Ogden avenues, and part of the mezzanine near that stair closed for additional work. The three street-to-mezzanine stairwells were again closed at various times between 10:15am, Monday, June 8 and 9am, Friday, June 19 for additional work, though only one stairwell was closed at a given time. All three street-to-mezzanine stairwells were again closed, one at a time, between 7am, Monday, August 10 and 7am, Saturday, August 15, 2020, for additional work.
In early summer 2020, the station was bypassed overnight twice in each direction, while contractor crews closed half of the platform at a time to clean and seal the new platform deck topping. O'Hare-bound trains bypassed Chicago from 10pm to 4am the next morning on Wednesday night, June 24 and Thursday night, June 25; Forest Park-bound trains bypassed Chicago from 10pm to 4am the next morning on Wednesday night, July 1, Monday night, July 13 and Tuesday night, July 14.
This Chicago-L.org article is a stub. It will be expanded in the future as resources allow.
1. "Your New Blue." CTA website, accessed January 11, 2014.
2. "CTA Awards Contract for Modernization of Grand, Chicago and Division Blue Line Stations." CTA press release, August 15, 2018.