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Brighter Broadway awaits $203 million CTA Wilson Station project

Sunshine should once again grace Broadway near the Red Line after a $203 million Wilson Station renovation project removes 21 pillars from the street and sidewalks, officials said Monday.

A forest of 31 concrete columns that hold up elevated tracks and now sprout out of Broadway and adjacent sidewalks will be reduced to only 10 by the time the Uptown project is completed in the fall 2017, officials said.

As a result, CTA President Forrest Claypool said Monday, a “bulky set of beams that now hovers over Broadway, casting shadows on the commercial area, will be moved off Broadway and [we will] let the sun shine there.”

The move — aided by the use of 21st-century stronger horizontal steel beams — should make the area not only safer for cars, pedestrians and bikes but also more business-friendly, officials said.

It will “open Broadway in a way that will have a whole different appearance, and that appearance will have a whole other sense of economic activity,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during a news conference Monday. “You’re not going to have this overhang and this darkness.”

Some 2,200 feet of elevated tracks and 100-year-old supporting structures will be moved slightly west; a third entrance will be opened; and an elevator and other handicap-friendly features will be added.

Plus, the station should stay open while 550 construction workers complete the job.

The historic circa 1923 Wilson Avenue station house will be restored on the outside and modernized on the inside with contemporary commercial space and steel-framed translucent canopies.

“Wilson Station is like a good wine. It’s now ready to be corked and we’re going to start all over,” Emanuel said during the official groundbreaking of the station reconstruction.

Now, a mere Red Line stop, the new Wilson Station also will serve as a transfer point between the Red and Purple Lines, bringing more potential foot traffic to Uptown.

The project is part of a massive $1 billion “Red Ahead” effort to upgrade the CTA’s most-traveled line, from north to south. At the south end, the 95th Street Station is undergoing a $240 million reconstruction and expansion.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said several business have opened in his ward since the $203 million Wilson Station plan was announced two years ago. He hopes the station will spur even more economic development in Uptown.

Cappleman said he was determined to modernize the station after the RedEye rated it the “crustiest” CTA station in Chicago three years running.

However, Cappleman said, he was only hoping to get $50 million for the project — twice the price tag of a failed plan 10 years earlier. Instead, Cappleman said, Emanuel and Claypool delivered a $203 million plan.

Not every rider was thrilled with that prospect Monday.

“They are wasting too much money on this stuff,” said Temp McDow, 38, before hopping on the southbound Red Line at Wilson.

“There’s a lot of history here. All you have to do is rehab it and put in an elevator for the disabled.”

Others looked forward to the facelift.

“It will be nice for commuters,” said David Hoffman, 55. “I think it’s a nice idea.”

CTA President Forrest Claypool (from left) Ald. James Cappleman (46th) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the groundbreaking for the new WIlson CTA station. | Rosalind Rossi/Sun-Times