Thursday, June 7th, 2012
I’ve long been on record as being in favor of, to use an Indiana term, “hyperfix” construction projects on transportation infrastructure. That is, closing a road entirely in order to complete a major project on a very accelerated schedule that avoids long periods of user pain and saves a ton of money to boot. The predictions of catastrophe if a road is closed seldom if ever come to pass.
Now Chicago is using the same approach for transit in fixing the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line L. This branch will be closed entirely for five months for complete track and track bed replacement. This avoids four years of weekend disruptions, pulls forward major benefits in terms of huge time savings from slow zone elimination, and saves $75 million that will be pumped right back into station ADA retrofits. Sounds like an all around win-win-win.
The CTA previously closed the Green Line for two years to rehab that line, but given the extended closure period, that can hardly be considered an accelerated project. This looks to be far superior to that previous project.
No doubt there will be complaints that the only reason for a full closure is that this is the South Side, which is largely black, and that North Siders would never be asked to step up to this. But this doesn’t hold water. For example, the CTA did not close the Brown Line during the expansion project there. But that was a station project, not a track project. And in fact the bulk of Brown Line stations did close entirely while they were being replaced – and for upwards of 18 months at a time. Also, the North Main L line carries over twice as many passengers as the Dan Ryan branch, so closing it for the future reconstruction project there would be more problematic. The Dan Ryan L also has a close parallel branch of the Green Line to absorb the traffic, in addition to multiple Metra lines. And the Dan Ryan Expressway itself and many underutilized arterial streets can be used for expanded bus service. All of these are much more problematic on the North Side. (Despite that, for all we know the CTA will ultimately close the North Main as well). So I think any complaints are off base, particularly since it is South Siders who are going actually going to benefit from the closure in terms of what I talked about before: faster benefits, shorter disruptions, and upgraded stations from savings.
Where I think the CTA does owe an account is on why this project is needed after a major project on the Dan Ryan branch a few years back. We hear today that this previous project was just for power systems. But that is not at all what I remember the spin was at the time. Given the number of times the CTA has had to clarify this when describing the current project tells me I’m not the only one who didn’t get a clear picture of what that previous project was like at the time.
To be direct, the CTA has a record of deceiving people about what’s going on with their projects. For example, the CTA told north side neighbors that stations would be kept open during the Brown Line reconstruction project. Then they decided to close them to save money but didn’t tell people until it was too late to influence the decisions. (Even aldermen complained they were “lied to” ).
I’m not saying that the CTA is lying about this project, which I think is great in any case. But clearly being scrupulous, transparent, and forthcoming with the facts is critical to maintaining public trust. It’s easy to see why South Siders wouldn’t trust the agency on this given its track record. So let this be a way to start earning back that trust. One way to do that would be to examine the communications about the previous project, and if they did not 100% fairly convey what it was all about, to admit that.
In any event, this accelerated project looks on the surface like a winner. There’s plenty of time to inform and take genuine feedback from the public on it, especially around the alternate routes. By the end of 2013, it should be the end of slow zones on the Dan Ryan L, and riders will likely quickly forget the pain of the closure.