Block 37's demons are now underground -- Chicago Current

“Block 37’s demons persist — they’ve merely been pushed underground,
where the Chicago Transit Authority has built the shell of a train
station without any tracks.”

So reports Chicago Current in “The CTA’s Block 37 Blues.” The story notes that the city and the CTA have no real plans on the table now to finish the $259 million cave. They used the money to build a “shell of train station without any tracks.”

It’s a saga that has left experts baffled and suspicious.

Joseph DiJohn, a professor at the University of Illinois at
Chicago’s Urban Transportation Center, questions whether the project
was ever viable to begin with.

“I think the station was primarily built to support Block 37, as
opposed to really taking a serious look at airport transportation,”
DiJohn says. “Why build a station if you don’t know that you’re going
to have the service?”

Block 37’s rotating cast of developers received $42.4 million in tax
increment financing from the city, and the CTA provided $176 million in
capital improvement funds to build out the structure’s basement.

For its part, the article quotes a CTA spokesman as saying the “city will take the lead in seeking private partners to help run the service ‘when the economy improves.’ “

Chicago Current is the new venture from Geoff Dougherty and his pals, formerly of the Chi-Town Daily News. Great stuff. Check it out.


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  • There is no news here. Wasn't it about 1-1/2 years ago that Mayor Malaprop was stammering something about "obsolete switches" being the reason it wasn't being completed (after Huberman posted a President's Report talking about the plan to complete the shell) and KevinB posted about that Washington-Red Line would not reopen?

    The only thing that might be new is that Dennis Byrne says it is up to $330 million. Maybe you Chicago Now guys can get together on that.

    Nobody has yet definitively said how much of the $259 M or $330 M was CTA capital money, as opposed to the developer's or TIF. Nobody ever held Carole Brown responsible for saying in her blog that she "did not support direct service without a path to express service" and "she did not support express service if it resulted in disruption of the existing system" but still voting for the project and for the decision to continue building the shell. Finally, joe001 hasn't explained why we should be fair with those decisions and what alternative use of the $259 M or $330 M would have brought us (such as rebuilding the North Side Main).

  • In reply to jack:

    Rereading the post, I do have to retract the first sentence of my third paragraph. According to them, $176 M was CTA capital money. Of course, if we take Byrne's number, that rises to $247 million. Again, let's see what the alternative use for that money would have been.

    Except, or course, Byrne indicates that it might have ballooned to

  • In reply to jack:

    I never understood what exactly this looks like underground. What is this shell? Does anyone have map or schematic? I'm curious because I'd like to think about how else this space might be used.

  • In reply to aczysz:

    Andy: Huberman's PowerPoint, explaining the decision to make it a shell, is in the June 2008 President's Report, starting at page 32.

    That includes pictures of the mudhole as it then stood, and a proposed track map.

    The way I found this was that in Googling, I discovered the old CTA Tattler story about Huberman showing a diagram to KevinB, which was dated June 26, 2008.

    Looking around that time got me to the correct President's Report.

    This, of course, also validated my prior comment that the story had been reported 1-1/2 years ago.

  • In reply to jack:

    These are excellent, thanks Jack.

  • In reply to jack:

    I've made four trips to Chicago through MDW in the last year, mostly returning to Omaha the same day I left, and used the CTA Orange Line every time. It's already faster than cabs a lot of the time, for a fraction of the price. I don't really see the need for express service ... and how would it work, switching between the two tracks at every single interlocking to get around other trains? If there were 3 or 4 track service on the airport lines this might sort of make sense in an odd way, but in the age of rollaboard bags there's no need for checked luggage service, the only real amenity that would be worth adding or such a short trip.

  • In reply to jefftl:

    As you describe it is essentially what would be the problem in instituting the express service.

    The problems described by the consultant in instituting the O'Hare service would be worse. I previously mentioned "direct" and "express" service. According to the consultant, direct service to O'Hare would consist of a two car train, projected to hold 12 passengers and their luggage, running behind the local. As Roe Conn said at the time, one would be paying $10 "for the privilege of not having someone pee on your shoe." Express service would have either required building bypass tracks around L stations at Damen and California, or building a new L over the UP NW railroad line from downtown to Jefferson Park. From there, they said that a 4 track row would be needed to O'Hare, which would require tearing up the Kennedy Expressway, "but IDOT indicated that it would have to be rebuilt in any event" according to the consultants. The consultant also recognized that while a private party might foot the direct service, at least a $1 billion subsidy would be needed to get the express service going to O'Hare. Daley's yammering about waiting for times to get better doesn't relieve one of the necessity of facing that fact.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hey Jack,

    The reason I went back to revisit this story is because the Mayor said in 2008 that the service would be up and running by the 2016 Olympics, and I learned that the city has abandoned any sort of timeline now without that incentive.

  • In reply to bmeyerson:

    The abandonment of the timeline might be news, but the shell isn't, especially to readers of the CTA Tattler. Neither is Daley's statement that he is waiting for better times to try to find a private operator.

    While the following statement: "'I think the station was primarily built to support Block 37, as opposed to really taking a serious look at airport transportation,' DiJohn says. 'Why build a station if you don

  • In reply to jack:

    Understood that much of this is not news to the readers here

  • In reply to jack:

    The real, unspoken reason for building the Block-37 tunnel was to provide an easy connection for trains to move between the Red and Blue lines. Right now, the only way CTA can do that is pretty involved. The Red line train switches to the Brown line near Armitage, then goes south on the 'L' structure to the Loop, then west on the Pink line via the Lake St and the Paulina connector 'L' structures, then down the ramp to the Blue line in the middle of the Eisenhower. Whew! The CTA had to say they were building the Block 37 tunnel for better airport service--otherwise they wouldn't have gotten funding for it. That's the only explanation that makes any sense.

  • In reply to JohnSchmidt:

    That could be the reason the CTA supported it, knowing full well it wouldn't get built, but that they'd get their tunnel between the 2 lines. Could very well be true.

  • In reply to jack:

    I would like to thank Jack for the link to the 2008 report. Before I saw the overall plan, I had no idea what was going on there, especially why there was so much surface work being done at State and Washington a few years back. I would also like to thank J.R.Schmidt for saving me the trouble of having to explain that whatever the reasons given for the work, the real motive was to connect the Red and Blue subway lines in the Loop.

    My original contribution will be this: it sometimes seems that anytime you start digging underground in Chicago, you're going to run into all kinds of unexpected things which are very costly to correct.

    The city was built on was essentially a sandy swamp. Then came the great fire in which the rubble was leveled and new buildings built on top. When taller buildings became possible, they were built on what were basically wooden rafts that floated on the rubble and the muck. For the last 50 years, tall buildings rise because the structural bases are sunk through the rubble and muck to the bedrock hundreds of feet below.

    Unfortunately, the State and Dearborn subway tunnels run through the rubble and muck and this was necessary because both had to go underneath the main and south branches of the river which eliminated simple cut and cover construction.

    I've know these things for years. Which raises the question of why don't those who submit bids for underground work in the central city take these historical facts into considerations?

    Two personal asides: (1) I was once involved in a good sized renovation of a residential building, the contractor whom I had worked with for several projects refused to give me a fixed price bid -- his reason, he didn't know what he would find when started opening up the walls. Which should be the attitude of anyone foolish enough to dig into the rubble- and muck-filled Loop.

    (2) One of the pictures in the report is labeled as the Stop and Shop rubble. Just so you know, Stop and Shop was a two story grocery store on Washington between State and Dearborn. The lower level was a typical grocery store but the street level part of the store was a smaller scale version of London's Herrod's food hall. Ab Fab is the only way to describe it, especially at Christmas time. And for all I know, there may have been a second (and/or third level) below the lower level retail space, possibly connected to the Loop supply tunnel system.

    In short, in Chicago, geology and history may be destiny and you ignore them at your financial peril.

  • In reply to Westerner:

    Or they are not allowed to bid without a fixed price, so they knowingly underbid the project and then just let the cost overruns add up and blame it on "surprises" when they start digging.

  • In reply to bmeyerson:

    So if it doesn't sound like there is any currently acted-on plans, why were they're crews down there today causing a well-lit slow zone between Monroe and Lake?

  • Which also reminds me that about that time, some alderman called the head of the RTA on the carpet raising this question. However, as was also pointed out, the alderman should have realized that the head of the RTA was not in any position to go counter what Mayor Malaprop then wanted. Your last sentence is correct, except for the "also."

  • It's too bad we lost a red line station in this process. I just hope that one day we can actually use this tunnel for something, even if it is not for airport express service.

    It's pretty dumbfounding how they were so surprised about everything they were encountering when they started digging. Can't they call "Julie"?

  • In reply to chris:

    Its dumb we lost it due to poor planning, but that station was very unnecessary in my books.

  • In reply to aczysz:

    How was the Washington station on the Red Line unnecessary? It was a major transfer point between the Red and Blue Lines.

  • In reply to eBob:

    Lake/ Washington used to be one station. It was split into two due to fear of overcrowding. It seems like Lake has handled it well over the past few years so there's no need to reopen the stop @Washington. Just position the trains closer to the transfer tunnel (if/ when its ever reopened) and call it a day.

  • In reply to ibright05:

    As was commented on here many times, that was also part of the pedway, which is now gone as well.

  • In reply to chris:

    they're doing some work down there for the transfer tunnel, although I haven't asked to verify *what* exactly. But, since the pedway has reopened (upstairs outside of the paid zone not the free transfer tunnel), all the CTA has to do is institute a farecard transfer for free Blue to Red (and theoretically the Loop lines @State/Lake)instead of forcing people to go to Jackson. Although if you have an unlimited pass, just get off at Washington Blue or Lake Red now and just walk.

  • In reply to chris:

    I'm not entirely sure, but I believe the switch on the Red Line was completed. I know for a fact that the switch on the Blue Line was not... the tunnel wall has not been cut through.

    The most recent pictures I have seen of the tunnel were when CBS2 (now IN Block 37) took their cameras downstairs last October. You can find that here:

  • In reply to chris:

    Now, let's talk about makework by CTA employees. I didn't get a picture as I was too flustered for words...

    Between Washington and Monroe at the closed Washington station, I observed an escalator repair man working on one of the dormat escalators at the station that has been closed for years now.

    This just absolutely boggled my mind. Seriously.


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