06/06/2012 10:00 PM
The CTA’s Cermak/Chinatown Red Line station will be shut down for five months in 2013, leaving already ‘L’-deprived Chinatown, far South Loop and East Pilsen residents without any train service.
The project is scheduled to tear up the entire branch of the Red Line that runs in the center of the Dan Ryan Expressway, rebuilding 40-year-old tracks stretching from Cermak Road to 95th Street.
It could have been done without shutting the system down, CTA officials said, but would have required the work be dragged out over weekends for the next four years.
By shutting the system down entirely, the work will be done much more quickly and efficiently, to the tune of $75 million in savings, the CTA said. Those savings will be used to upgrade stations during the reconstruction.
The CTA will reroute Red Line trains south of Roosevelt along the Green Line during construction, and shuttle buses will run between 63rd Street and 95th streets on the South Side, connecting the Garfield Stop on the Green Line as well.
But there’ll be no shuttle service to stops on the north end of the construction, including the Cermak/Chinatown stop, though the area will have its regular bus service increased.
The work will exacerbate the problem of a lack of transportation options in the South Loop and the Near South Side. Even with the CTA system running at full capacity, the Cermak/Chinatown stop is the only ‘L’ station between Roosevelt Road and 35th Street east of Halsted Street.
CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said that they understand buses aren’t as fast as the Red Line, they’ll try to make the rides as smooth as possible.
“While we cannot make customers’ trips as fast as they would be when traveling on the Red Line, we can make their commutes as fast as possible by increasing the frequency of service in the area,” she said.
The shutdown will be a big inconvenience for Chinatown, said Theresa Mah, who works with local advocacy group the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community.
“It would be nice if the CTA would consider an express shuttle from the Roosevelt stop to the Cermak/Chinatown stop,” Mah said. “It remains to be seen how much more frequent those buses are if they push that as an option, but there’s seven stops on the Archer bus between the Cermak stop and Roosevelt. It’s not a fast ride.”
Locals could probably adjust, Mah said, as long as the Chinese press informs them over the next year or so, but it could hurt tourism substantially.
“It’s a short commute from the Loop to Chinatown on the Red Line, but I think there might be a hesitation for people to come to Chinatown if there’s not an easy way to do it,” Mah said. “That might cause folks to think twice about shopping, having a meal or tourism in general.”
A new Green Line station at Cermak Road is scheduled to open by the end of 2014, more than a year after the Red Line’s reconstruction will have finished. However, construction on the station is scheduled to begin in early 2013, around the same time that Green Line tracks will begin carrying shifted Red Line traffic.
With a center platform planned for the new Cermak station, CTA officials have previously said that the Green Line’s tracks will have to be rebuilt to accommodate the new station, as well. It’s unclear when that work might be done, or how that work might impact rerouted Red Line trains.
“Until design plans are finalized on the Cermak Green Line station, we are unable to indicate what impact construction work will have on service and the surrounding area,” Hosinski said. “But, as with any construction work, every effort will be made to minimize the impact to customers, including scheduling work that will impact service to overnight or weekends only if at all possible.”
When the Red Line project is finally done, track that was originally laid in 1969 will be replaced, as well as a section of the system that’s currently made up of about 40 percent slow zones. The upgraded track will save about 20 minutes round trip between 95th and Cermak, the CTA said.