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CTA’s Belmont flyover project in limbo

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A rendering of the Belmont Red, Purple and Brown Line station showing the future flyover project. (Photo courtesy of CTA)

A rendering of the Belmont Red, Purple and Brown Line station showing the future flyover project. (Photo courtesy of CTA)

Comparing the railroad bottleneck just north of Belmont where northbound Brown Line trains cross over Red and Purple Line tracks to “a traffic signal in the middle of a busy interstate highway,” the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) announced plans for an elevated bypass to eliminate train delays.  The Belmont flyover is a highly contested project that would cost an estimated $320 million, with construction spanning three to four years.

The flyover is part of the CTA’s Red-Purple Modernization (RPM) Project, a development first announced in 2014 intended to renovate Red Line tracks from Belmont to Howard and Purple Line tracks from Belmont to Linden. “The rail infrastructure on those lines is simply not designed to handle 21st-century rail transit,” Brian Steele, a CTA spokesman, said.   

While renovations are inevitable for the nearly 100-year-old tracks, not all Lakeview residents are convinced the Belmont flyover is a necessary project. The CTA has stated that the average wait time for Brown Line trains to cross the Red and Purple Line tracks is just 84 seconds, and some area residents argue even that is a stretch. “I live right off the Belmont stop and I’ve honestly never had to wait more than like 30 seconds (for the Brown Line to cross),” Alyssa Rehn, 20, said.

A group of Lakeview residents have banded together to protest the Belmont flyover, a project that at its highest would reach 40 to 45 feet. The Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover supports renovating the existing tracks, but believes the Belmont flyover is an unnecessary waste of $320 million that will destroy Central Lakeview and Clark Street. It also opposes the demolition of 16 business and residential buildings to make room for the bypass.

belmont flyover

(Graphic courtesy of CTA)

The coalition is not alone. A referendum placed on Nov. 4, 2014 asked residents in the 20th, 35th and 38th precincts of the 44th Ward the following question: “Has the CTA sufficiently justified the $320 million proposed Brown Line flyover project and its impact on local homes and business?” Of the 807 that cast their ballot, 72 percent voted “no.”

Ald. Tom Tunney of the 44th Ward released a statement that aligns with the concerns of the coalition. “I have great concerns about the impact of this project, specifically the new structure, the viability of the parcels that remain and the effect this proposed project would have on the quality of life of our residents,” he said. “I will press hard on the CTA to ensure that they fully justify the need for this project.” 

A public hearing regarding the project’s Environmental Assessment (EA) will be held June 3 in the gymnasium at 3656 N. Halsted St. The CTA will also be accepting written comments mailed to their Strategic Planning office until June 18. If the RPM project goes according to plan, design and design builders will be finalized in 2016 or 2017, with construction beginning as early as 2017.

As CTA officials look to the future, they see the Belmont flyover as a vital addition to Lakeview and the rest of Chicago. “This is not about three to four minutes,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. “This is about six to eight decades of investing in the future. This is about enough train service in the future.”

The Belmont flyover’s opposition is forward thinking as well. In an open letter to the incoming CTA President Dorval Carter, the coalition directly stated their concerns. “CTA officials have not made the case that any time savings would be significant. The project, opposed by neighbors in Lakeview, is a solution to a problem that doesn’t yet fully exist.”


‘Red Ahead’

  • Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stations and tracks to be rebuilt
  • Projects meant to expand capacity on north Red Line, where ridership is expected to grow significantly

6 Comments

6 Responses to “CTA’s Belmont flyover project in limbo”

  1. Mike Payne on June 1st, 2015 12:06 am

    Ellen Hughes of the Stop the Flyover Coalition, and Mike Payne of the CTA Gray Line Project, along with others opposed to the Flyover — will be addressing the June 10th, 2015 CTA Board of Directors Meeting, and incoming CTA President Dorval Carter. 10am, 2nd flr. Boardroom, CTA Headquarters, Desplaines & Lake (one block west of the Clinton Green/Pink Line Stop). Please attend if you can!

    http://stopbelmontflyover.com/ http://www.civicartworks.com/projects/museum-campus-transportation-study?order=popular&phase=1

    [Reply]

  2. JackR on June 1st, 2015 4:32 pm

    I would be curious to see how many structural engineers, transportation engineers, city planners, etc oppose the flyover, because so far, I haven’t heard of any. The coalition has said all that is necessary is to upgrade the tracks, but I haven’t seen any kind of evidence at all for that.
    I don’t have that background either, but I’m not trying to argue with an agency that specializes in those fields.

    As for the people that keep claiming that the wait time is never more than 30 seconds, they actually have no idea how long it adds to the commute time. Are they only timing periods that the train is actually out of the station but stopped? What about when it just sits longer at the station because the conductor knows they can’t pass through yet? Or just drives more slowly? The people that are denying the CTA’s travel savings aren’t taking any of that into account.
    Plus, the CTA has repeatedly said that the time savings is not the only driver of this project; the line is also at capacity now because they simply can’t get any more trains through the station with the Brown Line crossing over the tracks. The coalition’s own letter says the flyover addresses a problem that “doesn’t yet fully exist”. The point is that it WILL exist. Are they proposing that we just hold off on this project until it is absolutely necessary, and then wait 4+ years for the studies, assessments, and construction to be done? The end point will be the same (buildings demolished, flyover built), but commutes will continue to be slow for another decade or two? That seems pretty nonsensical to me.

    [Reply]

  3. Allan on June 3rd, 2015 9:40 am

    To Jack, Ben Javorsky of the Chicago Reader timed train waits around Belmont Junction during a weekday rush hour not long after the flyover was announced, and the longest wait he timed was 40 seconds. I also uunscientifically timed train waits for almost an hour during one weekday rush hour, and the longest wait I observed was also around that mark. To go forward with this project via tearing down so many buildings and ruining the character of Clark Street is wrong, especially when the CTA hasn’t considered simpler alternatives such as elevating the 2 Red Line tracks, and giving Brown Line trains priority over Purple Line tracks through Clark Junction. This is clearly a minor problem, the CTA shouldn’t be wasting taxpayer money on. Also, it’d make more financial sense to expand the Kimball Yard which is at capacity(via acquiring buildings just east of the yard), and to consider short turning a few trains if possible.

    [Reply]

  4. Jeff Weiner on June 3rd, 2015 6:43 pm

    Well, I’m a retired traffic engineer, and a card-carrying railfan, and I can see only one reason this might be necessary. That would be if the CTA wanted to extend Yellow Line service south from Howard to the Loop. Then those numbers the CTA quotes as pointing o this might be valid.

    So far, they haven’t said that.

    I also wonder if the design of the flyover itself couldn’t be tweaked to take out fewer buildings.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    If you really a traffic engineer you would have learned that this is actually something that is necessary. Cause the time the CTA saves in between each train you can ad more trains. I seriously doubt you were a traffic engineer.

    [Reply]

  5. Andrey on June 4th, 2015 4:34 pm

    I would love to see the guy’s plan who believes that elevating the two middle lines is easier than building a flyover. Because even a cursory estimate of that would make it much more expensive. You’d have to nearly demolish all the structure north of Belmont to do something like that, and then some for staging. Love the pack of NIMBYs who decided that this project isn’t worthwhile, but can’t understand that this is to future proof the line, not for the most recent traffic considerations. It’s no surprise that the red line is probably going to expand to 10 cars and more frequent service since it is by far the backbone and busiest line on the system. In order to accommodate that, this flyover needs to happen. There’s simply no other way to get that much traffic through that junction without it.

    [Reply]

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CTA’s Belmont flyover project in limbo