Reporting Pam Zekman
CHICAGO (CBS) – CTA fares are going up so that desperately needed infrastructure improvements can be paid for; all while the final fixes are underway to correct costly mistakes made on the CTA’s $580 million Brown Line reconstruction project.
Now the Better Government Association and CBS 2 have learned the estimated cost of replacing new wood platforms on the Brown Line that were not properly weatherized has soared from $300,000 when the BGA first exposed the mistake two years ago. The final tab will be about $5.7 million.
“Wow. That’s a lot of money to redo it again,” said Selina Austin, a regular CTA rider. “And that’s all coming out of our pockets. That’s crazy. That’s really crazy.”
She recalled how bad the wood platform was at her station before the overhaul.
“You could tell it was rotty. The wood looked like it was going to collapse, and it was kind of scary,” Austin said. “Definitely dangerous.”
It was the same story at the Francisco station for commuter Mike Sedlack.
“I saw holes, and I tripped once,” Sedlack said.
Now the entire platform has been rebuilt.
“It was typical,” he said of government lapse. “They just had the wrong people in charge.”
So how did this happen?
The Brown Line reconstruction project included a fireproofing chemical on the wood that the CTA mistakenly believed would protect it against the elements. It didn’t.
Thirteen platforms have had to be replaced with wood that has been weatherized.
“I’ve got friends who build decks and things, and that’s one of the first things they talk about, and think about” said Brian Weber, a CTA commuter. “That’s a very dumb mistake.”
It doesn’t take a professional builder to know that, said Andy Shaw, the president and CEO of the Better Government Association.
“The dumbest home improvement idiot, and that would probably be me, knows that you have to do something to wood, you have to treat it to stand up in these Chicago winters,” Shaw said.
“The materials that were originally installed had a much shorter lifespan than they should have,” said CTA spokesman Brian Steele. “They only lasted about five to six years.”
All that occurred under a prior administration, Steele noted.
“The materials that were installed, in moving forward, will have an expected lifespan of 15 to 20 years, and that’s really what should be expected,” Steele said.
Asked whether the people responsible were held accountable for the, Steele said, “The staff that worked on that project are no longer with CTA. … They’ve moved on to other employment. They retired.”
Steele said the Diversey station will soon be the final Brown Line stop to have its platform replaced.
“Let this be a cautionary tale, as we begin to spend hundreds of millions of dollars repairing various CTA facilities, so that not only do we not waste the money, we don’t jeopardize the safety of a couple million riders,” Shaw said.