The CTA is promising faster trips between downtown and O'Hare International Airport on the Blue Line after a four-year modernization project was announced Thursday morning.
The $492 million project will include improvements to the tracks, station houses, signals and power supply. A combination of federal, state and local funds will be tapped to pay for the project, but today, only $86 million in state funding was announced.
By eliminating slow zones and allowing trains to operate at top speeds of 55 mph during longer segments, CTA officials predict that travel times between downtown and O'Hare, which now take about 50 minutes, will be cut by up to 10 minutes.
Currently, Blue Line trains operating to and from O'Hare and the Loop incur speed restrictions ranging from 35 mph to 15 mph as a precautionary measure following track inspections that found that the wooden rail ties were in poor condition and in need of replacement, the CTA said this summer.
Officials said the work will be the largest investment in the Blue Line since it was extended from Jefferson Park to O'Hare 30 years ago.
The Blue Line's O'Hare branch provided more than 25 million rides last year.
Work was expected to begin next year, and extend through 2017. The Blue Line will remain open, unlike the recently completed Red Line South project, which kept the line south of Cermak Road closed for six months.
CTA officials said today that riders should expect periodic weekend closures of sections of the O'Hare Branch. Alternate service such as shuttle buses, will be provided.
But in August, the CTA approved a $20.4 million contract to hire Kiewit Infrastructure Co. as the general contractor to perform track and structural work on the O'Hare branch between the Damen and Logan Square stations. The project is designed to address slow zones that haven't been repaired during previous construction projects, officials said. Work was set to start in the spring and be completed in 2014, officials said.
Between 2007 and 2009, CTA completed two projects that targeted slow zones affecting service between the O'Hare and Addison stations and the stretch of track north of Division to south of Clinton in the Dearborn subway.
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