Blue Line improvements get funds

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx have announced that a $120 million of federal loan has been secured for the $492 million "Your New Blue" project to improve the CTA Blue Line.

The 4-year program, which was announced in late 2013, is designed to improve service on the Blue Line, which is used by more than 80,000 customers each weekday. The program features station improvements, upgrades to tracks and modern signal systems.

The project will include extensive station renovations at the Grand, Chicago, Division, Damen, California, Logan Square and Jefferson Park stations, concrete platform repairs and a new elevator at the Addison station, and repairs at the Irving Park, Montrose, Harlem and Cumberland stations.

In addition, track improvements near O’Hare and in the Rosemont rail yard will help reduce delays, and wireless infrastructure upgrades in the tunnels will give riders more reliable voice, data and Web service, according to the mayor’s press office.

The project is expected to create more than 1,300 jobs in construction, engineering, design and other construction-related fields.

Ridership on the O’Hare Branch of the Blue Line is growing rapidly, with more than 25 million station entries in 2014, according to the mayor’s office, which said that weekday ridership has grown 25 percent over the past 5 years and 33 percent over the past 10 years. Annual ridership on the O’Hare Branch increased by 6.3 million rides over the past 10 years, the second highest for any branch after Red North Main, which added 7 million rides, according to the office.

In 2014 the CTA completed work on the first three of 13 stations that will receive upgrades. The Damen and California stations both received substantial improvements, and the Western station, which underwent a major rehabilitation in 2001, also received improvements. All three stations were built in 1895.

The CTA also completed track work between the Logan Square and Damen stations that is providing a smoother ride and reducing commutes by as much as 10 minutes each way, according to the mayor’s office.

The announcement was made at the Cumberland Blue Line station, which is one of the stations that will receive improvements as part of the project.

"By modernizing the Blue Line, we are investing in Chicago’s future, as it not only serves as a vital transportation link connecting O’Hare and Downtown, but it serves as a key economic engines for scores of Chicago neighborhoods," Emanuel said. "This federal funding will help us ensure that we build the infrastructure Chicago needs to succeed economically in the 21st Century."

"Every Chicagoan knows how important it is to be able to take a convenient, reliable trip on the L to and from O’Hare," Foxx said. "By upgrading the Blue Line, this project will improve access to 21st Century transportation for the entire region. Going forward, we want to bring these opportunities to other parts of the country, working with Congress to develop a long-term funding solution for transit, roads, bridges and other crucial infrastructure."

"Chicago has the second busiest mass transit system in the country, but also one of the oldest," U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said. "That’s why I’ve made it a priority to provide the federal support needed to make comprehensive renovation projects like Your New Blue possible. I’ve been a supporter of the (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan program and am glad to see Chicago taking the lead in putting it to good use.

"This project will increase Blue Line capacity, improve reliability and de-crowd trains. Importantly, it will also allow passengers to travel more smoothly from O’Hare, the world’s busiest airport, to downtown. Investing in mass transit is good for our infrastructure and economy, and I will continue to work with Mayor Emanuel and the administration for projects that ensure Chicago will have a safe and modern system for decades to come."

The infrastructure loan program provides credit assistance for qualified infrastructure projects, and it is designed to fill market gaps and leverage other investment by providing capital. It is intended to allow infrastructure projects of regional or national significance to move forward quickly.

"The Blue Line, connecting O’Hare to Downtown, plays a vital role in Chicago’s economy. The Blue Line transports almost half of CTA’s daily rides — rides that get suburban and Chicago residents to and from work, rides that carry out-of-town travelers, and rides that bring businesses to Chicago," U.S. Representative Mike Quigley said. "The ‘Your New Blue’ project will create more than 10,000 jobs, reduce commute times, increase rider capacity, and grow our tourism industry.

"We need 21st Century infrastructure, and ‘Your New Blue’ puts us on that path. As a member of the (Transportation, Housing and Urban Development) Appropriations Subcommittee, I will continue to prioritize investments in the CTA to update our century-old transit system, create jobs and improve travel times for riders."