CTA plans L overpass at Belmont to eliminate bottleneck

Written By BY ROSALIND ROSSI AND TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporters Posted: 04/18/2014, 02:26am
Array The CTA Belmont stop in Lakeview. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

Some Lake View residents were in an uproar Thursday over CTA plans to raze up to 19 buildings and create an elevated bypass just north of Belmont to address a major bottleneck involving the Red, Purple and Brown Line trains.

The $320 million bypass would separate the northbound Brown Line from the Red and Purple Lines on a new elevated track just north of Belmont, increasing the speed and capacity of all three lines, CTA officials said.

But residents on the west side of the 3200 block of North Wilton — which lost about a dozen buildings during a 2009 Brown Line expansion — were ready to fight the latest plan that they fear would decimate their block. Some said two CTA contractors knocked on their doors about 11 a.m. Thursday with letters advising them that their property may need to be acquired as part of the “Red and Purple Modernization Project.”

“This whole package . . . doesn’t really pass the sniff test,’’ said Steve Johnson, 38, resident of a 14-unit condo building at 3252 N. Wilton targeted for possible demolition. “We’re going to fight this and I’m going to win. I’m not leaving because of this.’’

On the other side of the block, Ellen Hughes, 64, of 3239 N. Wilton, said her building is expected to survive — but with reduced property values and amid a dust bowl of construction.

“They are talking about destroying property in the middle of Lake View to build a CTA roller coaster up in the air,” Hughes said. “I am going to be stuck with zero property value and this train going up in our face.’’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended the project as an important step forward to increase capacity, improve travel speeds and upgrade track that is as much as a century old.

“As someone who took the Brown Line today, you wait before you can transfer and you lose time,’’ Emanuel said.

Concerning property demolitions, the mayor said, “One doesn’t want to do it. On the other hand, we have to work together and achieve the goals so people who rely on our public trains” can get to their destinations on time.

Though far from set in stone, three areas would be affected by the work: one two-and-a-half-block section involving the bypass, from Belmont north to just west of Sheffield and Roscoe; and a second two-block section in which a bend in the track would be straightened from Clark and Roscoe to Cornelia.

About 16 buildings combined in those two areas may have to be seized. Most are condos or apartment buildings, three to five stories high, with some retail, CTA officials said.

An additional three non-residential buildings could be affected by another section of work that would widen platforms at stations from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr.

The current configuration requires trains on three of four tracks to stop and wait for Brown Line trains to cross, which results in more than 40 percent of weekday trains being delayed by up to three minutes near the Clark junction, CTA officials said.

Some Lake View residents disputed the CTA’s description of current delays.

“I don’t know a polite way to say they’re lying,’’ Hughes said. “It’s not 40 percent of the time. It’s just not true.’’

CTA officials contend that about 150,000 rides a day encounter the bottleneck.

The bypass would allow the CTA to add about six to eight trains per hour on the tracks shared by the Purple and Brown lines in both directions, CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said. An additional six to nine trains per hour in both directions could be added to the Red Line — the CTA’s busiest line, she said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said residents of the 3200 block of Wilton have been “through the mill.’’

“There’s legitimate concern for neighbors on the 3200 block of Wilton, and we want to make sure there’s a lot of input from those residents left on that block,’’ Tunney said.

Community meetings will begin next month to gather input on the project, and no designs are final at this point, CTA officials said. Work on the Belmont bypass would begin in 2017 at the earliest.

The bypass is part of the $1.7 billion first phase of a Red and Purple Modernization plan. The entire project will improve the north end of the Red Line eventually all the way north to the Linden station for at least 60 years to come, officials said.

At the same time, CTA officials are planning a $2.3 billion extension of the south end of the Red Line, from 95th to 130th.

Both projects are contingent on funding, although the CTA has identified federal programs they think could help bankroll them.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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