"Next stop...Block 37"
The groundwork is being laid for a new CTA station
downtown-which could lead to faster service to the airports
It has begun. While discussion continues about the viability of an express-service rail line connecting the Loop to O'Hare and Midway airports, the Chicago Transit Authority already has started the work necessary to build the underground station below Block 37 (bounded by Washington, Randolph, State and Dearborn). The station will be part of a five- to six-story structure housing retail outlets, entertainment venues and residences .
On August 16, we happened upon CTA workers in fluorescent vests showing contractors around the Blue Line Washington stop in a presite inspection. The process of upgrading the signal system on the existing Blue Line will likely begin next spring, according to Mike Chrispo, the CTA employee leading the inspection. Engineering bids for the work will be submitted within a month, with a contract to be awarded in the spring, he says.
While CTA spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler says the signaling work is separate from the express train project, which is a "future phase," Chrispo says it is the first step in getting the express line built. When the signaling upgrade is complete, the other phases can begin. The contractors will place bids on the Blue Line upgrade, as well as on the communication components for the tracks in the connecting tunnel.
On the tour, the group looked at the area where a spur will be built to connect the Blue and Red line tracks north of those lines' Washington stops, which will make it possible to create a stop at the new Block 37 station. Proponents of the airport express line to Block 37 say that it will be a boon to the downtown economy. Detractors claim the express train is a folly, considering the CTA's budget woes, adding that there's already rail service to the airports from the Loop.
In its June 3 edition, the Chicago Reader reported that there isn't enough money for the entire project—just the underground train hub. Mayor Richard M. Daley wants to build the station, for which hundreds of millions of dollars have already been earmarked. But the money for the new tracks and tunnels hasn't been tracked down. Whether or not the money ever is, the station will serve as a stop for Blue and Red line trains, Ziegler says.
If funds are acquired for the express train, the CTA would begin to build a line that would run along the Kennedy Expressway. The trip to O'Hare would take an estimated 20 to 30 minutes, versus 45 minutes on the Blue Line, at $10 to $15 a ride.
The CTA is building the station using $130 million in bond proceeds from its 2004 capital budget—with the city footing $42.4 million and Virginia-based developer the Mills Corporation picking up $40.9 million, for a total price tag of $213.3 million. The CTA expects the station to be completed in 2010.—Marc Geelhoed