The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in March will begin the first project for the Your New Blue improvement program for the Blue Line O’Hare branch— a $492 million program to provide faster, smoother commutes and improved stations along the Blue Line’s O’Hare Branch.
Announced in December 2013, Your New Blue includes a number of track and station improvement projects along the 12.5-mile stretch of the O’Hare Branch between the Grand and O’Hare stations. Your New Blue is the largest, most comprehensive investment in the Blue Line since the O'Hare branch was extended to the airport from Jefferson Park in 1983-84.
“Your New Blue represents a huge investment in CTA riders and visitors traveling to Chicago via O’Hare and the many vibrant communities along the North and Northwest Sides,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool. “These long-overdue improvements are part of Mayor Emanuel’s efforts to modernize our transit system for the 21st century.”
Your New Blue is part of more than $4 billion in transit improvements announced by Mayor Emanuel since taking office in 2011, including projects to build new rail stations and modernize others, purchase new buses and rail cars, and continue investments in technology to benefit customers and provide a better commuting experience
The first phase of Your New Blue involves replacing wooden rail ties, tie plates and other track materials on the Milwaukee elevated track structure between the Damen and Logan Square stops—a section of line that opened in 1895 and still sits on the original structure. That work will require 10 temporary, weekend-only closures (known as line cuts) of small sections of the Blue Line, tentatively scheduled between March and August:
- 7 weekends — closure between Western and Logan Square
- 3 weekends — closure between Damen and Western
During the temporary closures, the CTA will provide free shuttle bus service for rail customers, as well as free transfers back into rail stations. The shuttle buses will run continuously and will be able to accommodate all Blue Line passengers. Shuttle buses will stop at each station affected by the line cut to pick up and drop off passengers.
The first temporary closure is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of March 21-24. The closure will begin at 10 p.m. Friday and reopen by 4 a.m. Monday.
Some of the weekend work will also require some temporary street closures and parking restrictions near the elevated structure. The CTA is working closely with local aldermen to finalize details.
“As with all of our projects, our main goal is to minimize the impacts on both commuters and the community as we improve the Blue Line for the long term,” Claypool said.
Later in 2014, the CTA will begin rehabilitation projects at the Western, Damen and California rail stations—the latter two of which date back to 1895. Project schedules are still being finalized for that work.
In all, the four-year Your New Blue program will upgrade 13 stations, including adding a new elevator at Addison; improve tracks and signals; install new water-management systems and repairs to ensure dry and clean subway stations; and upgrade traction power to improve service and reliability.
Ridership on the O’Hare Branch has grown rapidly, with more than 25 million station entries in 2012. Weekday ridership has grown 25 percent over the past five years, and 33 percent over the past 10 years—outpacing the growth of the rail system as a whole. 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, the section of the Red Line north of Belmont, which added 7 million rides annually during that period.
Funding for Your New Blue is being provided by a variety of local, state and federal sources, including $86 million from Governor Pat Quinn’s Jump Start program.
Your New Blue is the latest of several large-scale, rail-improvement projects. In addition to the recently completed $425 million Red Line South reconstruction, the CTA in 2014 will begin building a new terminal at 95th Street Red Line ($240 million); rebuilding the Wilson station on the Red Line ($203 million) and working with CDOT to complete a new Cermak-McCormick Place elevated Green Line station ($50 million) by the end of 2014.