"They're going to do what?"
That was the general reaction to Monday's CTA announcement about the Red Line rehab project shutting down the entire south end of the system's Dan Ryan Branch from Cermak/Chinatown to 95th Street.
Construction crews will rip up the tracks and replace the line with a smooth new rail surface that's long overdue. For five months next spring, commuters must find another way to get around on the South Side.
Shut it down? For five months? It seems drastic, but when you look deeper, it's actually smart.
The CTA says doing the project in this fashion will condense four years of weekend work to just five months of round-the-clock construction. More importantly, CTA President Forrest Claypool said it will save the agency $75 million that will be reinvested into sprucing up the stations.
I'm a big advocate of the "hyper fix" scenario that closes something down entirely in favor of fixing or rebuilding it 24/7. Isn't it nicer to just get it all done at once? I think so, and I think the idea should be applied beyond train tracks.
In 2003, the Indiana Department of Transportation embarked on a massive project in Indianapolis to fix a stretch of interstate in the middle of downtown. They hyped it up for six months, closed it down after Memorial Day and re-opened it in 55 days with a brand new roadway. About 175,000 vehicles had to find a new way to get to work in a town that doesn't have as strong of a mass transit system as Chicago and they figured it out.
Could Chicago put up with something like this on the expressway? You bet. After watching commuters avoid Lake Shore Drive and I-55 last month during the NATO Summit, it became clear that the best option to fix the crumbling LSD/I-55 interchange is a repeat of the NATO closure in the Spring (say March to June) and it could open just in time for the Taste of Chicago.
If it meant getting the Eisenhower all straightened out, could you handle a year-long closure for IDOT to rebuild it? More traffic travels to the Kennedy and the Stevenson and the rest to the Metra lines. The hype would be relentless, but it'd be well worth it to finally sail through these avenues on the way home.
How much money would be saved by doing road projects this way? The Federal Highway Administration called the Indianapolis project a success and it saved taxpayers an estimated $125 million. That's back in 2003.
So maybe the CTA got it right with the Red Line project, and maybe they could be a trend-setter.
Their motto is to deal with the pain now, and gone will be slow zones that currently allow bicycle traffic to move quicker to 95th Street than the trains do. It won't be easy, but in the end everyone will be happy.
Well, everyone except White Sox fans.