If you ride the rails or pass by the Belmont station on the North Side, you may be watching the progress of the CTA’s overhaul of the Red and Purple lines. This month, crews are putting into a place a major piece of that redevelopment effort – and passengers will start to see the benefits of the project later this year.
The $2.1 billion phase one of the Red Purple Modernization project kicked off in 2018. It’s an effort to overhaul miles of tracks and stations of the century-old L.
“It’s beyond its useful life,” said CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase. “It just needs to be fully rehabilitated.”
Old tracks mean trains can’t travel as fast as they’re meant to, causing delays throughout the CTA’s system. Major work started in October 2019 with the construction of a new Red-Purple bypass that is, Chase says, “Basically going to decongest, if you will, train traffic at the Red, Purple and Brown Line intersection north of Belmont station.”
The CTA made major progress on the bypass in 2020, installing the columns and foundations for the bridge. This month, crews will install the piece that connects those columns, as well as the steel girders that the CTA describes as the backbone of the bypass.
“We will basically be building the section of the bypass that goes over Red and Purple line tracks,” Chase said. “When that work is done later in January, people will actually be able to ride underneath the bypass for the first time if they’re on a Red or Purple line train.”
As for timing? The CTA estimates the bypass will be ready this summer. This spring, temporary Red Line stations at Argyle and Bryn Mawr are set to open.
“Those stations are well underway – in fact they’re visible to anybody walking or driving by – and those will open simultaneous with the four stations closing for reconstruction,” Chase said.
Those four stations — Bryn Mawr, Berwyn, Argyle and Lawrence, covering parts of Edgewater and Uptown — are set to be totally rebuilt, and the scope goes far beyond the cosmetic.
“We have stations that are not accessible to our customers with disability issues, so with this project we are rebuilding stations so they will have elevators and they will be able to accommodate mobility devices,” Chase said.
In addition to new stations, the CTA will also be rebuilding major sections of track along that same stretch. With major construction expected to run through 2024, the CTA says it wants to be proactive about reaching out to riders, neighbors and business owners.
“We have hundreds of businesses within the Red Purple Modernization footprint,” Chase said, “and they’re all notably, understandably concerned, even prior to the pandemic: ‘How are people going to get to my business? Am I going to be OK?’”
In preparation, the CTA launched its Open For Business program, with online and in-person promotional efforts for places like local shops and restaurants. The agency and its contractor Walsh-Fluor also say they’ve worked to hire people from disadvantaged neighborhoods, held career fairs and launched a scholarship for CPS students interested in engineering and construction.
“We believe that this project should benefit everyone, not just people who use those stations or necessarily ride those train lines,” Chase said.
While Chase acknowledges the overhaul will sometimes cause delays, closures, or impacts around stations and tracks, she says it’s a critical project for Chicago’s future.
“The Red Line is the backbone of the city, right? It’s been here 100 years, and we need it to continue for another 100 years,” she said.”
Learn more about the Red and Purple Modernization here. And if you’re planning on taking the CTA this coming weekend, be aware: train service will again be replaced by shuttle buses between Addison and Belmont for work on the bypass from 10 p.m. Friday until 4 a.m. Monday.
Note: This story will be updated with video.