IL: Skepticism, Distrust on Display at Meeting on CTA Brown Line Project

May 23--The CTA's $320 million proposal to eliminate a bottleneck of the Red, Purple and Brown Lines north of Belmont Avenue has raised anger and skepticism in the Lakeview neighborhood as residents and business owners say they don't trust the agency to deliver on what it is promising.

That lack of trust was evident Thursday night when the CTA hosted an open house to answer questions about the plan.

The agency welcomed visitors into a room in the police station on Addison Street. More than a dozen poster boards and about 20 CTA staff and contractors were positioned around the room to explain the plan, which would require razing 16 buildings north of the Belmont Station to make way for an elevated track that would send northbound Brown Line trains over the Red and Purple Line tracks.

The CTA contends that the project is necessary to increase capacity on the tracks to accommodate growth in ridership.

Residents and business owners at the event said the scene reminded them of the CTA's pitch a decade ago when the agency proposed reconstructing the Brown Line.

Terri Hanley, a retiree and property owner, said the value of her property on North Wilton is still lagging from the effects of that project.

"Those are a fantasy," Hanley said, pointing at the CTA's posters, which displayed conceptual renderings of condominium developments that the CTA envisions will be built alongside the flyover project.

"They had similar images the last time they came to the community," said Jim Maciejewski, a self-employed resident of Lakeview. "It didn't happen."

The mood of skepticism was evident to Carole Morey, CTA's chief planning officer, who stood behind a map of the proposed flyover Thursday as concerned residents fired off questions about what would replace the demolished buildings.

"What I think we're really hearing from residents is that they're angry that this parcel was never developed," Morey said, pointing on the map to a piece of property that has sat vacant ever since the last Brown Line project. "That's hurt our credibility. We're sort of battling that now."

The credibility issue persists as opponents of the new Brown Line plan have seized on a statement by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said during the unveiling of the plan that it would put an end to a "three- to- four-minute wait" at Clark Junction. Opponents say actual delays are no more than 20 or 30 seconds.

CTA has since said that delays range from 30 seconds to four minutes, but average 84 seconds.

The focus on delays has distracted from the real purpose of the project, Morey said.

"If we don't build this project, we're placing a cap on the ability to grow ridership," she said.

But even people who weren't still reeling over past CTA fumbles said they were skeptical of the agency's plan.

Joe Zuercher, who owns a residential unit in a building on Clark Street near, after scanning the agency's posters and handouts, said he wasn't convinced.

"It's going to be a major disruption," Zuercher said. "All that for a 90-second wait? From what I've read so far, it's not worth it."

kgeiger@tribune.com

Twitter @kimgeiger

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