Last week's report on the Blue Line slow zone work brought out the skeptics and conspiracy theorists. And many of you asked some good questions; I in turn asked the CTA for further clarification.
The questions primarily are: Did the CTA tear out recently replaced concrete ties, and if so, why? And, just what DID the CTA do in 2007-08 and is there any overlap here? If so, why? CTA spokesperson Noelle Gaffney provided the answers, and all quotes are attributable to her. (Bolded words are my own for emphasis.)
Are new concrete ties being replaced? The short answer is NO.
"The ties in question were not installed over the last two years. The bulk of the work under way right now is to replace wooden ties that date back to the opening of the subway. There are, however, some concrete ties that were installed in the late 90's by the CTA on an emergency basis to replace badly deteriorated wooden ties. There are a limited number of them, mostly around the Division Station.
"To ensure that we have a consistent product to the highest standard throughout the subway, we are replacing these older ties along with original wooden ties that are about 60 years old now. (The Dearborn subway opened in 1951). The new concrete ties use a special concrete mix that is a better grade than the one used for the 10 year old ties and it is designed to reach a high strength quickly."
Is the CTA "redoing" work done in 2007-08? Again the short answer is no, but they are working in some of the same areas because the CTA didn't have funds in 2007-08 to replace ALL ties.
"Most of the Blue Line slow zone work in 2007 and 2008 involved the northwest end of the branch, from Addison to O'Hare. But over 15,000 feet of slow zones were removed in the subway as well. Ties that were in the worst condition were replaced. Not every tie was replaced, just those that were most deteriorated and contributing to slow zones at the time. The federal stimulus program provided the opportunity to go back in and replace the remaining original ties. It would have been great to have had the resources to do it all at once; we did what we could afford to do."
How long will riders be inconvenienced?
"The phase of work under way right now is the longest phase and is scheduled to finish by the end of August. The slow zones that were put into place due to the work will start being lifted in June as the replacement of ties progresses. In a nutshell, that means we are at about the peak of what the slow zones will be for this phase and it will start to ease up next month. The second phase of work will be shorter and will impact the track between Grand and the south end of Clark/Lake. And the final phase will cover the rest of the subway to Halsted.
Looking at the big picture -- a marked improvement. Gaffney also noted that the CTA has made much progress in the last two years in removing all slow zones. And she reminds us that the CTA needs capital spending dollars to invest in its infrastructure.
"At the peak in fall 2007, slow zones were in place on more than 22% of the system. We are currently at about 9%, including the zones added due to the Blue Line work. So they have been greatly reduced and work is under way to prevent new ones from occurring. That said, the CTA is a large system as well as an older transit system that needs continual investment to keep it maintained and operating. Without capital investment infrastructure will continue to age and show its wear and tear."