The Chicago Transit Authority is planning a half billion dollar upgrade to the north branch of the Red, Brown and Purple Lines.
But some Lakeview residents say the real cost will be their neighborhood and property values. At issue is a controversial proposed "flyover" that would displace dozens of residents. Is this gleaming new project really needed in a time of budget constraints?
It’s a $570 million upgrade to the tracks just north of the Belmont stop.The proposal is to replace a signal and junction where westward-bound Brown Line trains cross Red and Purple Line trains with a gleaming new flyover structure that would whisk the Brown Line over the Red Line without having to stop and wait. The CTA says it’s part of the multi-billion Red and Purple Modernization project that is upgrading track and stations on the northside – and that it can’t add service to its ever growing Red Line without the new bridge.
“Right now it’s as if we have a stoplight in the middle of a freeway,” said CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase. “It’s a traffic jam and the traffic jam’s getting worse. We would eliminate that traffic jam. We can add more service and get rid of overcrowding.”
But the project would result in the demolition of 16 buildings – mostly businesses and residences around Clark St. and Sheffield Ave.
So a coalition of residents has formed in opposition to the plan because they fear it will blight their neighborhood for a project that they believe isn’t necessary.
“It’s gonna be horrible,” said resident Ellen Hughes who is part of the Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover. “I’m not losing my house, but I’m losing the value of my house because the neighborhood is going to look like it’s under the skyway.”
And Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney released this statement:
“I have great concerns about the impact of this project, specifically the new structure, the viability of the parcels that remain and the effect this proposed project would have on the quality of life of our residents. I will press hard on the CTA to ensure that they fully justify the need for this project. “
The CTA has secured federal money through what’s known as a "Core Capacity" grant – money earmarked for expanding ridership on public transit – to study the feasibility and design of the project. But it’ll ultimately take a mix of state, local and federal cash to complete it. The CTA says it’s all about anticipating an increase in demand over the next several decades.
“We want our 'L' system to serve people for the next 100 years,” said Chase. “There’s an extra 185,000 people expected to move along the Red and Purple Lines in the next 15 years. We have an obligation to make sure we’re serving the customers of CTA into the future.”
But the Stop the Belmont Flyover coalition disputes the fact that this is a "needed" project. The CTA says the average stop and wait times at that junction are a minute and a half – the coalition says their own research shows the waits are significantly less.
“We’ve proved that it’s a 20 to 30 second delay. So is it worth tearing up Lakeview for a 20 to 30 second delay? It isn’t," said Hughes.
The first community meeting on this project is slated for Wednesday, June 3. Tunney is expected to attend. If the flyover goes forward as planned, it would start in 2017.