Many Chicago commuters, including Loyola students, will soon see the effects of one of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) biggest construction projects in history — the Red-Purple Modernization (RPM) program.
The project will “rehabilitate and rebuild” the Red and Purple Lines from Belmont to Howard and Howard to Linden, respectively, over the next several years, according to CTA spokesperson Tammy Chase.
Right now, the project is only in phase one, which includes the construction of a bypass-bridge for northbound Brown Lines trains north of the Belmont stop, and the demolition and reconstruction of Red Line stations Lawrence through Bryn Mawr, Chase said.
The modernization project will widen the platforms, install elevators and put in better lighting and more benches at the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations, according to the CTA website.
There won’t be much impact to CTA riders until the end of 2020, when the Red and Purple Line trains will have to share one set of tracks north of the Belmont stop in order to allow for the other tracks to be rebuilt, according to Chase.
Once this construction begins, Chase said riders should expect slower train service and should plan for longer commute times.
Stella Krueger, a Loyola senior who lives near the Argyle stop, said she uses the Red Line multiple times a day to get to and from classes, work and other places around the city. The 21-year-old advertising and public relations major said it would be “a struggle” if the station closed.
“I would definitely have to find other ways to get around, which would be annoying,” Krueger said. “It definitely would affect my commute time to work and school.”
Noah Gothard, another Loyola student who lives between the Berwyn and Argyle stations, said he also relies on using the CTA Red Line at least once a day to get to classes. The 20-year-old junior said if he wasn’t able to use the Berwyn stop to get around, he would have to use the 147 bus line, which takes longer and doesn’t come as often.
“My commute in the morning would definitely be affected by [the construction] because I would know I wouldn’t just be able to walk over to Berwyn and hop on,” the creative advertising major said.
During the reconstruction of the four Red Line stations, temporary stations at Argyle and Bryn Mawr will still provide service, but there won’t be service at Lawrence and Berwyn due to lack of space, according to Chase.
Louise Devin, a Rogers Park resident, said she’s glad the CTA is taking steps to make the train stations more Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible. The 58-year-old childcare provider said she recently had surgery to repair a broken ankle, and faced difficulty getting around the city because of narrow platforms and lack of elevators at certain stations.
Devin said she had her surgery at Swedish Covenant Hospital — located west of the Red Line Berwyn stop — but wasn’t able to go there for follow-up appointments since Berwyn doesn’t have an elevator and she was relying on a knee-scooter to get around. She said she was blown away when she realized not all stations have elevators.
“I just assumed that all the stations were ADA accessible,” Devin said. “And now I’m really conscientious of like, ‘Wow, I wonder what people do who are permanently disabled.’ … It’s just something that I feel bad I never was aware of before and that I never advocated for or really thought of.”
Krueger said she thinks the positive impacts of the construction would outweigh the negatives of having to live through longer commute times.
“I really hate when the stops don’t have elevators,” she said. “I’ve helped a lot of people with strollers getting down the stairs, and stuff like that, so overall I feel like [the construction] will be a good change, and it’s just going to be kind of rough when they’re doing all the construction.”
Gothard said he thinks one way CTA could help riders during the construction phase is by adding more buses.
Chase said adding more buses would be considered if it seemed necessary.
The bypass bridge will be completed and in use by end of 2021, according to Chase. However, the closures and constructions from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr are expected to start in late 2020 and not finish until the end of 2024, meaning Chicagoans could be experiencing the effects of this construction project for a while.
The RPM project — including the bypass and the station rehabilitations — is just one component of the larger CTA program called the Red Ahead, which is a collection of projects meant to extend and modernize the entire Red Line, according to Chase.
Past projects included construction on the Loyola stop — just steps away from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus — in 2013 to make the station’s entrance more accessible by moving it slightly north.
Chase said the Loyola Red Line station will be rebuilt in the future, but it hasn’t been determined exactly when.
Also in 2013, CTA’s Red Line South Reconstruction Project completely rebuilt 10.2 miles of tracks from north of Cermak-Chinatown to 95th Street to get rid of “slow zones and delays.” As a result of the project, the daily round-trip commute from 95th Street to downtown Chicago was shortened by 20 minutes, and several new elevators were installed in stations, according to the CTA.
The CTA’s Red Line is the busiest of all the rail lines, making up 31 percent of all rides, according to Chase. She said the Red Line serviced 70 million riders in 2018.