By Logan Laurie (Loyola Junior)
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) said on April 13 that it would remove the 100-year-old embankment wall previously needed to prop up Lawrence to Bryn Mawr Red Line stations while it modernizes the Red and Purple Line tracks from Addison-Sheridan to Thorndale-Howard in Chicago’s Northside neighborhoods.
On March 14, 2023, at a virtual public hearing, CTA agency officials said that a new study will assess how to modernize stations, tracks, and infrastructure to “meet ridership demand for the next 100 years.”
Completion of the study – expected to close in late 2023 – “will allow the CTA to launch the next steps in the process, which includes furthering engineering work, conducting a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental review,” and locking in the remaining and necessary funding for implementation.
The CTA said the Walsh-Fluor Design-Build Team has already begun removing pieces of the embankment wall, but the $2.1 billion Red and Purple Line Modernization (RPM) plan is expected to last until 2025.
Alderperson of the 48th Ward, Harry Osterman, said the project “will be transformative for our [48th Ward] community,” allowing an “exciting opportunity for our community to add needed parking and community spaces.”
Upcoming public meetings in late spring 2023 will be held to collect ideas on repurposing the track’s lower areas, allowing residents a say in its future development.
Citywide, agencies and departments, and public advocacy groups are already working collaboratively on unrelated projects to repurpose vacant under-spaces into active and passive recreational opportunities for open space development.
Active recreation refers to structured individual or team activity that requires special facilities, such as courses, fields, and specialized equipment. In contrast, passive recreation, for example, walking, picnicking, running, or bicycling spaces, refers to a recreational activity that does not require prepared facilities like sports, fields, or pavilions do.
The repurposing of unused under-track and under-thruway areas gives residents a chance to work with city agencies and departments to combine active and passive recreation, such as skateparks adjacent to natural scenic areas that provide other types of leisure.
In late 2020, the Haas Park Advisory Council’s Logan Boulevard Skatepark Committee in Logan Square started work on the redevelopment of Logan Boulevard Skatepark – a skatepark situated underneath the I-90 superhighway’s thruway.
The Committee has partnered with local stakeholders, such as the Chicago Park District and local elected officials, raising $250,000 in city and state investments and $20,000 from regional business investment.
Residents may be able to reference the Logan Boulevard Skatepark Committee’s project as a model for individual sections of the 1-mile-long opening to expand active and passive recreational open space in Chicago’s Northside communities.
CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. said in a previously released statement, “We look forward to working with the local community to generate ideas for new, viable areas and turning them into useful and appealing community spaces,”
Phase I of the RPM project involves removing the wall and modernizing the Red and Purple Line tracks which will finish in 2025, said CTA officials. However, Next Phases, which will begin formal idea generation late this spring, won’t actually begin reconstructing the track’s lower areas until 2025, following the completion of Phase I.
CTA spokeswoman, Tammy Chase, said, “The stations are going to be bigger, brighter and more modern,” which will aid in reducing delays in high ridership demand areas and align with the City’s 2022 – 2026 Capital Improvement Program.
The Citywide program is designed to repurpose – such as preserving existing wetlands, natural resources, and river edges – retired railroad infrastructure for trails and parks using revenues from Open Space Impact Fees (OSIF) that are “funded through bond proceeds and City funds.”
The City of Chicago uses Tax Increment Financing as well – a geographically targeted economic development tool – to marginally increase property taxes from new or upcoming developments to redivert revenue and subsidize future capital projects. The Chicago City Council voted in 2016 for a transit-TIF-district for the project.
The project will also use federal funding to cover roughly $1 billion of the $2.1 billion cost, while Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars will contribute an additional $600 million. The CTA says they will fund any outstanding costs.
Upon completion, the $2.1 billion RPM project will “create more than one mile of new, open space” underneath Red and Purple Line tracks in the Rogers Park, Uptown and Edgewater neighborhoods and modernize infrastructure and ridership of Red and Purple Lines.
CTA hosted community meetings for a “block-by-block look at new space” that the removal of the century-old embankment wall makes available will allow residents to advocate for future community spaces.
For more information on the RPM project meetings, visit CTA’s website. For more information on the Logan Boulevard Skatepark Committee’s thruway project, visit their Instagram or check out their website.