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CTA details $88 million in stimulus spending on Blue Line subway

Almost $88 million in federal stimulus funds will allow the CTA to repair all the slow zones in the Blue Line tunnel, from Clinton on the Forest Park branch to Division heading to O'Hare.

The CTA in March had announced a $56.6 million construction contract to repair the slow zones in the Dearborn tunnel. The announcement Monday shed more light on the whole project.

The CTA press release gives some details on how the work will be staged:

"The first leg of work [began] April 17 and [will] continue through August.  Work is scheduled for weekends only and will affect rail service at the Division, Chicago and Grand Blue Line stations.

"Demolition work began the weekend of April 17 and will continue the weekend of April 24, requiring single track operation of northbound Blue Line trains from Grand to Damen.

"Beginning in May, Blue Line rail service will be suspended between Western/Milwaukee and Clark/Lake on many weekends, but bus shuttles will operate as a substitute for Blue Line rail service.

"During the next phases of work crews will focus on the track from Clark/Lake to south of Grand, followed by work from Clark/Lake to Clinton."

The work will create a total of 400 local construction jobs.

Mayor Daley in the release answers the question some might have about the other tunnel work in the past:

"Last year, we did what we could afford to do and focused on the sections of track that were in the worst shape. This stimulus money allows us to go back in and replace everything that we didn’t get to replace last year,” Daley said.

Comments

It's a shame it took a deep recession and the resulting stimulus package to fund what should be routine maintenance.

While Mayor Daley is all smiles while announcing this plan, it's worth noting the irony of how, under his watch, the CTA was woefully neglected. If he's to take credit for stimulus cash coming to Chicago, he should acknowledge his starring role in bypassing upkeep and expansion of mass transit for no-bid pet projects awarded to clouted developers at inflated prices. It cuts both ways, Mayor.

I'm thrilled that the Blue Line tracks are going to be restored to a state of good repair. Yet I can't help but feel that perhaps these are funds that could've been used to build more stations, or modernize old ones, or purchase even more new buses and train cars, or repave more pockmarked streets, or any number of pressing transportation-related infrastructure needs.

It isn't routine maintenance as I believe most of the wooden half ties and rail components down in the Blue Line subway are at or past useful life by this point which necessitates a capital project.

Granted that this should have been done years ago but that's government for you.

Are they replacing them with something better than the wood ties and other materials that will wear down easy? I just hope we don't have to do this again in 10 years.

I realize there is benefit to getting the blue line in 100% good repair, but there are certainly more higher priority track work on the most utilized line, the Red.

I think this has everything to do with O'Hare travelers.

With all this money coming in, does anyone have a figure of how much we've knocked down our capital needs? I've heard anywhere from 7-10 billion. I'm guessing we've received or are set to receive close to 1 billion. That's certainly a good start.

They have been replacing all the wood ties with concrete, so I believe they will have a much longer lifespan then the current ones.

"I realize there is benefit to getting the blue line in 100% good repair, but there are certainly more higher priority track work on the most utilized line, the Red."

I'm not sure what track work you are referring to. There are currently almost no slow zones between Roosevelt and Granville. The portions of the red line where some track work is needed are not remotely the "most utilized" portion of the system.

In any case, the fact that the central portion of the red line is the busiest part of the rail system didn't mean that it should have had the highest priority in terms of fixing slow zones. The CTA was right to focus most intensely on the blue line. The people who use the blue line are the most elastic in the system while those who use the northern portion of the red line are generally inelastic. Less convenient red line service just causes more people to use bus service (or just realize they had to put up with it). Those who use the blue line are much more likely to use cars (or, in the case of airport travellers, cabs) instead. That is why we saw far more complaints about the red line slow zones on this blog than the blue line slow zones. It was not conveinant to choose another form of transportation in the red line area. So the CTA didn't lose as much revenue from these people. They were right to focus most of their resources on the blue line (although they certainly didn't neglet the red line as they did fix almost all of the slow zones from the loop to the far north side).

If Daley wasn't praying for all he's worth for the Olympics in Chicago, do you think he'd give a rat's patoot about the CTA ? Especially the Blue line connection to all the proposed Olympic venues ? Just my humble opinion...

Question #1 - Please give a reference for your first question connecting "Olympics/Daley" to the CTA

Question #2 - This question doesn't make sense to me, please explain your implied conclusion of a "Blue line connection" to "Olympic venues"

"Just my humble opinion..." - Please explain, it just seems like two questions to me, I don't even see your opinion on the answers to those two questions.

It seems to me that spending money on the 2nd busiest line is not a bad idea; albeit there may be more pressing needs on the Red Line. I'm not going to try and judge one over the other and I'm not at all convinced about MK's "elasticity" of the Blue over the Red. I do think there's slow zones from Sheridan to Wilson and I once heard a maintenance worker or a supervisor mumble something about "power" problems on the north side Red Line. Whatever that means. Still, the Blue Line is a critical line and throwing-in the "shovel-ready" requirements of the stimulus bill, the Blue Line was probably the most practical choice.

What interests me more, or actually, what I heard for the first time when this project came up that surprised me, is that the big project in the subway they did last year (and Huberman made such big fanfare over when it was done) was only a partial job! I don't remember EVER hearing that. So if this year's project is to finish the job, if they hadn't gotten the stimulus, how long would last year's project lasted before slow zones would have kicked-in again? I think that's a big, big question that should get answered, because it gets to the heart of understanding CTA's claims about $6 billion of unmet capital needs, etc., etc..

In other words, is there another price tag, a smaller one ($2 bill, $4 bill?) that represents the "need" to get CTA to an acceptable operating level? Someone at CTA clearly answered that question a year ago about the Dearborn subway when they decided to (as we're learning today) only do half the job. What other "half projects" are out there that are better than nothing?

I just hope the red line subway wansn't a partial repair job. I can't take any more construction. I already get dripping on every day waiting for the train at Grand.

MK, you didn't really refer to riders being "elastic," did you? Remember, that earned a certain CTA President a virtual tongue lashing from Tattlerville (including you) last fall. Don't let air travelers and the hipster/yuppie ("urban pioneer"?) contingent at California, Western, Division and Grand fool you. Blue Line riders are every bit as inelastic as Red Line north side riders. Outside of those demographics riders are equally transit-dependent with fewer bus alternatives than exist parallel to the north side Red.

The northern part of the Red Line is crumbling, and to my utterly untrained and biased eye needs far more work far more urgently than the Blue Line seems to. But I don't think $88 million is likely to be enough to fund these repairs, so I can't say I have any issue with the money being used on what seems to be the already-well-tended Blue Line.

Ron Huberman received a tongue lashing from me and others because he was using the word "elastic" incorrectly. And even if one rewords the principle he was attempting to get across so that his statement makes sense, it still would be incorrect. I won't rehash that whole thing. I am using the word correctly. There is a big difference.

Driving a car is a much more attractive alternative for people who live or work near the blue line north of Damen or Western than it is for those who live near the entire nothern half of the red line. It is not even close. Their are much more conveinent roadways that are not very congested. There is a major highway on a huge portion of the blue line, for Christ's sakes. And parking in the area is normally not a hassle and is often free. Rosemont, a huge employer as well as a place with a variety of hotels and convention centers (and a major stadium) is MUCH easier to get to by car and cheaper to park than similar locations near the red line. And that is before you even mention airline travellers going to or from O'Hare. Obviously, taxicabs are a pretty popular alternative. You might notice that many people use them.

So no, riders of the blue line are not generally transit dependent. How many people do you see getting on or off the blue line from Addison until Jefferson park? Not many compared to just about every station on the red line, especially during off-peak service. A few years ago, when the slow zones were even worse on the blue line than the red line there was a reason why much fewer people came to this blog and others to compain than did about the red line. The red line riders generally had no other choice than to put up with it or use equally slow bus service. So they felt the need to voice their anger. Generally, the people who feel the most need to voice their anger are the people who the CTA needs to worry least about in terms of keeping their business. Obviously, I'm not suggesting the CTA shouldn't have fixed or continue to fix red line slow zones. But the blue line work was the most essentual. And thankfully, the CTA prioritized it that way.

I do agree with JMan that it is confusing that the CTA plans to work on the blue line north of Grand. I had certainly been under the impression as well that that work was already done. And previous reports about this project have indicated it involved the "Dearborn Street subway" which would suggest it only dealt with the portion of the track farther south. Hopefully someone can find out answers about this. The stimulus project, of course, has the intended purposes of providing a boost to the economy. But with that streatch of work, any boost from the jobs created will obviously be more than offset by the detrimental economic effects of suspending service on that part of the line on several weekends. If the work was farther south it wouldn't be as big a deal. The blue line would still allow people to travel from O'Hare or anywhere on the north side to downtown. The Forest Park branch of the line has pretty low ridership and are generally very close to the pink line or the green line. But not providing direct rail service from O'Hare to downtown will cause many people just to not come downtown. If the work really has to be done then it obviously has to be done. But it would be rather silly to call it a stimulus project because the negative effects on spending will outweigh the positives.

I was also very surprised to learn the work on the Blue line subway was just a patch job. The many nights/weekends of subway closures and single tracking as well as the lengthy creeping work slow zones seemed to last just as long as the project to replace the red line subway's tracks. I certainly hope the red line subway work last year was not also a patch job!! Like I've said before on here, I do think the CTA is purposefully taking the do-nothing approach on routine maintenance and track work on all four tracks (red & purple express) and the embankment/structure from around Sheridan up to Howard. At the rate things are crumbling, the line will be just about ready for a complete rebuild and therefore eligible for federal new start funds in about 5-7 years. I think this is an outrage and someone should hold the Cta's feet to the fire and MAKE them prioritize on going serious maintenance repair work on the north red line! The thought of 2 years worth of the nightmare of nearly rebuilding the line due to intentional neglect makes me sick!

[Their are much more conveinent roadways that are not very congested. There is a major highway on a huge portion of the blue line, for Christ's sakes.]

Good point. I mean, who's ever heard of congestion on the Kennedy?

[But with that streatch of work, any boost from the jobs created will obviously be more than offset by the detrimental economic effects of suspending service on that part of the line on several weekends.]

That word, "obviously" ... I do not think it means what you think it means.

At any rate, I'm not sure what the problem here is supposed to be. If people don't come downtown on the weekends because of this work, they'll just take their economic activity somewhere else. Whether that's in areas of the city other than downtown, or the suburbs, it doesn't really matter in terms of overall "stimulus."

For out-of-towners coming to or from the airport, they may decide to take a taxi instead. Again, no big deal. It's not like large amounts of people are going to say, "Gee, we're not going to Chicago, there's work being done on the Blue Line!"

All that said, from a convenience standpoint this does pretty much suck for those affected. My sympathies to Blue Liners...

"At any rate, I'm not sure what the problem here is supposed to be. If people don't come downtown on the weekends because of this work, they'll just take their economic activity somewhere else. Whether that's in areas of the city other than downtown, or the suburbs, it doesn't really matter in terms of overall "stimulus." "

First of all, that argument assumes that everybody engages in the same amount of activity regardless and its just a matter of where they do so. That is not correct. Chicago is the type of place where people tend to spend more than they would elsewhere. A group of people who decide to come downtown to eat at a restuarant are far more likely to end up doing other things while they are here than someone eating at a restuarnt in the suburbs. They may, for example, decide to also go to Navy Pier or to the art institute. And they may purchase things from the many shops nearby. Or they may go to Water Tower Place. Chicago, especially downtown, is a compact pedistrian friendly city. That very nature encourages people to spend more time going from place to place and engaging in more economic activity.

Furthermore, those who do decide to come downtown anyway via the blue line plus shuttle buses will have less time to spend here because it takes longer. And that means less time to spend walking around and purchasing things. If they decide to take a taxi they will likely notice how much they spent, which is much more than a train ride would have been. And many people will take that into account when deciding how much they will spend while in the city. So even if you look at this from a state or national perspective and focus on whether the project boosts the economy of the whole state or country, I still think the negative effects outweigh the positive. But the reality is that, with the stimulus package, local leaders should be fighting for what benefits their region in terms of fighting the recession. And I think this clearly causes more harm than good for the city of Chicago. So Daley probably shouldn't have pursued this part of the subway work.

If they are going to use the stimulas package to rehab that part of the subway, the question naturally arises as to why they choose the summer. According to the press release, this will take until August and is the first phase of the rehab of the entire subway. Then they will work in the areas between Grand and Clinton. The summer, I assume, is by far the most heavilly trafficked time on the blue line during off-peak times (which is when the disruptions will occur). That certainly has been my observation. People travel into to the city for the many festivals, to visit the lakefront or musuems (the musuems certainly are more crowded than any other time of the year), or to visit Navy Pier, enjoy al fresco dining at restuarants or whatever. So why would they choose to do the work that causes the most inconveinence at the most heavily traffiked portion of the year? It has major effects on the economy and it also affects their revenues directly. Why not do the work between Clinton and Clark/Lake this summer, for example. People can still easilly use the line to come downtown or the near north side. Some people might just have to walk or take a bus or taxi a little farther south. And then they could do the rehab between Grand and Division early next year when there is much less tourism or other people visiting Chicago. The portion between Grand and Lake (in between in terms of level of inconveinance) can be done later this year. That just seems logical. You wonder if they even thought about these things or if they just randomely decided on the schedule, forgetting that their decisions have a major impact on many things.

MK always uses words correctly. He has it all figured out.

Since you are essentially arguing that doing this work will cause more harm than good, my comment still stands. Why not fix up the red line and not impact tourism as much during the summer months? You point out that there is not much slow zone in the center part of the red line. You're correct, but that's not the only part of the line. Very high ridership increases have been happening north of Wilson if you took the time to do a little research. Also, many people take the Red Line from up north to go to Cubs games. If they could do this work while scheduling around the games, this would be a great benefit to lots of people. In a way, you kind of proved my point.

Ed wrote: "Like I've said before on here, I do think the CTA is purposefully taking the do-nothing approach on routine maintenance and track work on all four tracks (red & purple express) and the embankment/structure from around Sheridan up to Howard. At the rate things are crumbling, the line will be just about ready for a complete rebuild and therefore eligible for federal new start funds in about 5-7 years. ... The thought of 2 years worth of the nightmare of nearly rebuilding the line due to intentional neglect makes me sick!"

Or an even more nightmarish scenario: if the north end of the line crumbles to the point where it can't be safely used, and if we know by then that we're not getting the Olympics, would it be rebuilt, or simply closed? I suppose that's farfetched. But I find I'm getting more cynical about the Daley administration by the day. This is, after all, the mayor of the nation's third-largest city who once said, in front of God and everybody, that there is no constituency for transit, and who was content to let the CTA rot until he realized--what must have come as an awful shock--that the candidate cities' transit systems actually mattered to the IOC.

Right on El Rat ! When Daley made that about face about the constituency for transit the other day, you had to know it's all about the Olympics. He has never cared about the CTA until now.

That mythical quote from Daley has come up several times. Can somebody please provide a source for it and/or clearly state the context for which the statement occured? Thank you.

I'm with MK on this one.

I can't find the context for the quote, but I've found a reference to it that dates back to 1997 in this old Chicago Reader article:

http://tinyurl.com/cky4ka

So it appears that the quote is, at the very least, twelve years old, and hence may date back to a time when the biggest transit-related debate was over neighborhood activists demanding that a big section of track be torn down. In other words, it was likely at the time that transit had actually lost its constituency in some way.

But of course, without further context it's hard for me to know exactly what Daley meant. I think it's safe to say that it doesn't have much relevance to what's happening in 2009, however.

And it looks far more likely that Daley was stating this as a critisism. There is nothing to indicate that Daley was implying that it is a good thing that transit had lost his constituency. My guess is the statement came about while complaining to the press about a lack of state funding or something like that. A reporter may have asked him why it was difficult to get the CTA money for various things and perhaps he replied something to the effect of "Transit has lost its constituancy. People in the suburbs are no longer as commited to it so, unfortunetely, is is more difficult to get statewide support for funding in the legislature."

The statement in this article from Kruesi seems to provide support that this was the context in which both of them were talking. Kruesi stated transit has "become less relevent to the American way of life". That, of course, was a clear accurate fact in 1997. Just four or five decades earlier, there was much higher ridership as the shift to suburban spraw hadn't fully occured yet. Obviously, Kruesi wasn't saying this was a positive. Since that time there has, of course, been a shift back to transit being more popular as a result of changing demographics and increased density in the cities.

That is just my guess based on my analysis of the article and common sense notions about what politicians say. Admittedly, that isn't conclusive. So if Quondam El Rat or anyone else knows specifically that Daley stated that in a different context then I'd suggest they let us know. The suggestion by everyone quoting it has always been that Daley was arguing that because transit users don't engage in strong advocacy or make election decisions based on transit issues that their wishes should not be considered. I find it difficult to believe that Daley thought, even in 1997, that very few people in the city cared about transit nor that those that did shouldn't have their wishes considered. I also don't believe that he thought the transit system wasn't very important to the city's economy. And I certainly find it difficult to believe that if he did have any of these opinions that he would mention it publicly. That is not what he or any other politician does (yes, he isn't immune to the laws of politics). I would guess this is one of those internet legends that get passed around and result from people taking things out of context.

MK and strannix, it looks like you may be right about the quote I used. I had the Reader quote and quotes from the the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group (http://www.ncbg.org/transit/transit_cityhall.htm) and American Prospect (http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=the_buses_dont_stop_here_anymore) to the effect that the Mayor had said public transportation had "lost its constituency"; a slightly different wording than my paraphrase, and I also cannot trace it back further. I'm usually more diligent about tracking my sources but this time posted in haste (giving me the opportunity to repent at leisure). My apologies to Tattlerville for being sloppy with that.

I do maintain, though, that Daley seems not to understand fully the importance of public transportation (in somewhat the same way he doesn't understand the importance of accountability and open government) and was, for a big-city mayor, remarkably lukewarm in his support for the CTA until he connected it with the Olympic bid. And I still don't trust his support of the CTA once the Olympics, one way or another, are no longer an issue.

"in somewhat the same way he doesn't understand the importance of accountability and open government"

It's not about him not understanding the importance of accountability and open government. I think he understands these things clearly. He just believes that they are less important than making sure he is able to run the city the way he sees fit. And quite frankly, I agree with him. A lot of people complain about the lack of debate and discussion about city projects and ordinances. I certainly do at times. Obviously, there are huge disadvantages to not debating something before it is put in place. I think the blue line stimulus project and its timetable is an example of that. In the rest of the country, people actually discuss the advantages and disadvantages of something before it is deciding on. We don't get to do that in Chicago. Another example is bus rapid transit, which will destroy the neighborhoods in which it is implemented.

But the reality is the alternative to Daley's autocratic style is an extreamly poorly run city that does not have anything close to its current economic advantages. The city would be run by populist idiots like Joe Moore, Ed Smith, or people like that who care more about what people should eat or use as grocery bags than making sure Chicago is a world class city with a great economy. And we would have ordinances that encourage retailers to locate only in the suburbs which will cause residents to need to drive across the border and purchase things that do not go into our tax base. Everybody complains about the parking meter lease deal (and no doubt the company now in charge has made a bunch of stupid missteps) but the reality is if it wasn't in place there would probably be higher taxes. And everyone would be complaining about that. Daley needs to sacrifice a certain amount of openness and aldermanic freedom in order to run the city efficiantly. That doesn't mean these sacrices don't have very real negative effects. They do. But they are outweighed by the fact that it has caused Chicago to be a great city that people flock to to live or visit. We are the most successful, vibrant, and economically sound large city in the midwest. And that is in no small part because of Daley's political power.

I think Daley has always understood the importance of and been a big supporter of the CTA. I might quibble with some of his leadership affecting it. Certainly it was under his watch that the tracks were allowed to decay to a point that they caused a severe derailment that almost cost lives. And this neccissitated a long period of severe slow zones. Obviously, his airport express idea was ridiculous (as is some of the things recently released that he apperently wants built before 2016). And he allowed ridiculously high wages and benefits for CTA union workers. But he has always faught the state legislature for more funding (rightly or wrongly). He orchastrated the completely successful doomsday threat in 2007, for example. And he wisely kept a low profile for that since it would have been completely counterproductive for suburban and downstate voters to see him complaining about CTA funding on TV screens. He has argued for many expansion projects, such as the circle line. So while I'm not sure his leadership with regard to the CTA has been great I do think it is clear that he has always realized its importance to the city.

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