Evanston officials celebrate Purple Line improvements
Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin discuss long-anticipated Purple Line improvements at a press conference on Thursday. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:18AM
During her initial campaign for City Council in 1997, Evanston 3rd Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne was put on notice by her father, a career U.S. Navy engineer, that something had to be done about the crumbling viaduct in her ward they saw during her rounds.
He didn’t let up, she recalled, even after his daughter was elected and she would recount some progress in other areas.
He’d say “all that’s good to have, but what’s been done with the viaduct,” Wynne recalled at a press conference last week in Evanston.
Amid construction din, the alderman and a confluence of city, county, state and Chicago Transit Authority officials gathered around that viaduct, situated next to the Dempster Street.
They celebrated the recent $10.3 million in upgrades to the Purple Line.
The upgrades include the replacement of two 100-year-old viaducts this weekend at Dempster and Grove streets.
Officials say the new 4,000-ton viaducts will be wheeled into place sometime between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday.
As the city did nearly two weeks ago in the replacement of another old viaduct, at Greenleaf Street, arrangements have been made for residents to watch the new 4,000-ton Grove Street viaduct hoisted into place.
Residents can watch the process through their computers by going to: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/evanston-events.
The viaduct is expected to be put into place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.
City officials have long sought new viaducts, stressing their importance for economic development -- improving aesthetics around local businesses -- and also citing safety concerns.
Local lawmakers -- including U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9th; then-State Rep. Julie Hamos, D-18th; State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-9th; and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-13th -- even skipped out a press conference with the CTA some years ago, to express their frustration on the issue.
Some seven viaducts were scheduled to be replaced under the state’s Illinois First funding program in 1999, Schoenberg recalled at last week’s press conference, giving some of the history.
Evanston saw funds for one, he said, and then the balance of it was rerouted to work in the South Loop, he said. After a great deal of lobbying, officials were able to secure funding for a second of the seven viaducts.
He thanked CTA President Forrest Claypool, also at the conference, and Gov. Pat Quinn for finally making good on the commitment after a lapse of more than 10 years.
In 2009, Quinn signed into law a $31 billion state funding plan that included a total of $2.7 billion funding of all Chicago area public transit.
“These viaducts are essential not only to the economic lifeblood of this community, but there’s a strong safety consideration as well,” Schoenberg said.
Some of the areas constituted the only “slow zones” on the CTA system, where the trains “had to come to a crawl crossing over these streets in order to ensure they actually remained standing,” he said.
As a commuter himself, Schoenberg said he passed through the viaducts countless times a day, and “sometimes wondered if they would still be there on my way home.”
Claypool said the new viaducts would replace the old structures “in desperate need of repair.” He said the improvements represented the latest investments by the CTA to improve the system. “The more we invest in transportation, the more we see communities like Evanston and small business thrive,” he said.
Wynne said the new viaduct will “alter and improve” the community around it. Moreover, in the cooperation among different entities to pull the project off, “the message has been, for everyone here and throughout Chicago, that we can get infrastructure done,” she said.