Evanston officials urge residents and students to attend CTA meeting

Ani Ajith

Aldermen and city staff are urging Northwestern students to attend Thursday’s Chicago Transit Authority meeting to provide feedback on plans to close the Foster Street and South Boulevard El stations.

At the Monday council meeting, Matt Swentkofske, Evanston’s Intergovernmental Affairs Coordinator, joined Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl in exhorting residents to attend the public scoping meeting. The Associated Student Government is also urging students to attend.

“These proposals are still up in the air, and depending on how vocal Northwestern students are, one way or another, will actually have a tangible impact,” said Ethan Merel, ASG external relations vice president.

The CTA plans to improve tracks, stations and service along its Red and Purple lines, which may involve station closings. Federal law mandates forums for the public to offer input on the various options presented.

In a report detailing six options for work on the lines, the CTA warned “continued degradation could increase the cost of maintenance and compromise service,” and listed American Disability Act noncompliance at 15 out of 21 stations and a growing “highly transit-reliant and diverse” population in the area as further reason to renovate the lines.

The alternatives range from basic renovations and repairs to extend the service life of the lines by 20 years to extensive modernization plans to extend the service lifespan by 60-80 years, replacing older tracks, increasing speed and service to Chicago and adding capacity to trains.

The basic rehabilitation plans will cost approximately $2.4 billion to $2.9 billion, while the three modernization plans would range from $4 billion to $4.2 billion.

The latter options would eliminate the Foster and South Blvd. stations.

CTA currently has no funding for any of the proposed options, but completing initial environmental studies allows it “to be prepared for any future federal funding opportunities.”

“That it’s being considered at all is worrying,” Ald. AnnRainey (8th) said. “People need to know that this is going to be a very serious meeting.”

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said she spoke to CTA officials last week regarding the Foster and South Blvd. stations.

“They said that Evanston folks must let them know that they don’t want Foster and South (Blvd.) to be closed,” Wynne said. “These are just alternatives, and they’re waiting for input.”

In encouraging residents to voice their opinions at the meeting, she cited successful efforts by residents along the South Red Line to persuade the CTA to change plans.

City staff reached out extensively to the community to alert residents of the meeting since the CTA sent word of the meeting in early January. Swentkofske and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz contacted NU administration staff members regarding the meeting, urging them to publicize the event.

Merel heard about the proposals from former ASG officials and Lucile Krasnow, Special Assistant for Community Relations, one of the many NU officials contacted by the city about the event.

Swentkofske e-mailed and called the offices of state elected officials, the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, local business districts, service organizations and tourism bodies. The city website has also prominently displayed the upcoming event on the home page for several weeks.

The meeting, which will most likely include an introductory presentation of the alternatives followed by time for public input, will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.

The North Red and Purple lines, constructed between 1900 and 1922, carries 19 percent of all CTA rail trips on weekdays using tracks and stations the CTA describes as “dilapidated” and past their “useful” lives.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires the CTA and the Federal Transit Administration to assess the potential impact of the project on the surrounding communities and environment and gather information on land acquisitions. In the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement, agencies must examine, among other issues, the effect on neighborhood aesthetics, wildlife and ecosystems, air quality and water resources, security and noise, and vibration.

“We’re trying to push information out so that people understand what’s happening in the city so that stuff doesn’t just happen to you,” Dean of Students Burgwell Howard said at Tuesday’s town hall meeting.

Those who cannot attend the meeting may submit comments until Feb. 18 via mail, e-mail or fax . Details are available on the Evanston city website.

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