The Chicago Transit Board, at its regular monthly meeting, approved an ordinance that allows CTA staff to enter into negotiations to purchase various parcels of land located near the Blue Line Cermak (Douglas) Branch, which is scheduled to be renovated starting next year.
In the course of the reconstruction and rehabilitation, the CTA will need to acquire 20 parcels of property that abut or are adjacent to the Douglas Branch structure in order to place support columns, build stations and erect electrical substations.
This Board ordinance grants the CTA the ability to designate the parcels for acquisition, negotiate with owners for the purchase of their property and allows for payment of relocation expenses.
"This is an important preliminary step toward the rebuilding the Douglas Branch of the Blue Line," said Chairman of the Chicago Transit Board Valerie B. Jarrett. "By moving ahead with the property acquisition process, we hope to expedite the reconstruction project that will bring improved service to the communities along the Douglas Branch."
The acquisition process entails conducting appraisals of the 20 parcels and reviewing them to establish a fair market value. Of the 20 properties, 13 are vacant lots. Seven occupied properties have approximately 13 occupied residential units and six commercial units, which must be confirmed by appraisal.
The CTA gave preliminary notices to the property owners in January of this year. In keeping with federal regulations, an Environmental Assessment was published. Another notice was delivered in March before the appraisal process began to owners and taxpayers of record. All notices were written in both English and Spanish, and a hotline voice mailbox was established with messages in both languages to respond to questions about the acquisition and relocation.
The CTA conducted 13 community meetings and met with more than a dozen neighborhood organizations and various elected officials to familiarize them with the preliminary plans of the land acquisition and relocation.
Eligibility for relocation assistance may begin when negotiations for purchase are initiated. The CTA will meet with all property owners to explain rights and benefits, and printed materials will be available in English and Spanish.
Reconstruction of the Douglas Branch is necessary because of the continuing deterioration of the elevated structure. In 1999, 41% of the line was in slow zones, which require trains to operate at slower than normal operating speeds. In just one year, that number has increased by 5%. Today, 46% of the six-mile stretch of the Douglas Branch is now in slow zones as a result of the deteriorating condition of the tracks and supporting structures.
It now takes up to 50 minutes to travel from the terminal at 54th/Cermak to downtown which has resulted in a continuing decline in ridership along the Douglas Branch. To continue to provide the Douglas corridor with access to public transit, alternate bus service improvements were made such as the introduction of the #X21 Cermak Express and increasing the number of weekend trips on the #21 Cermak routes. These service enhancements allow the CTA to better serve its customers during the week and on weekends when preliminary structural work is underway on the Douglas Branch. As a result, ridership growth on the bus routes that serve the Douglas corridor has outpaced the loss on rail by 100,000 rides a year.
CTA President Frank Kruesi said, "Giving our customers true rapid transit is the motivating force behind the reconstruction of the Douglas Branch. This process will allow us to better work with the community fairly and equitably during this acquisition step and allow us to accelerate the pace of rehabilitating this line and improving service. The rebuilding of the Douglas Branch is the highest priority project among the CTA's Capital Improvement Plan."###