CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Transit Board approved the reinstatement of the Ashland and Western Express routes Wednesday as part of a three-phase effort to improve the bus speed and performance on two of CTA’s busiest routes.

Beginning Dec. 21, the No. X9 Ashland Express and No. X49 Western Express bus routes will run during the morning and afternoon rush periods, according to a statement from the CTA.

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The express service will reduce travel times for passengers on these heavily traveled corridors. Express buses will make stops roughly every half-mile and at all bus and rail transfer points.

Each day, these two north/south routes serve more than 55,600 riders, but traffic congestion and close stop spacing cause consistent bus bunching and big gaps in service, the CTA said.

“We know how important these two bus routes are to the livelihood of thousands of people across Chicago,” CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr. said in the statement. “Reinstating this service will provide customers with optional express service during the AM and afternoon rush that will save up to 22 minutes on trips along each route once all improvements are complete.”

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As part of the three-phase effort to improve speeds along the two routes, the CTA will also be optimizing bus stop spacing on the local routes by removing some of the least-used stops. This will allow buses to travel faster by reducing the time spent merging in and out of traffic and provide convenient access along both corridors, according to the statement.

When implemented, up to 85 percent of all trips on Ashland and Western avenues will be unaffected by bus stop relocations, while all trips will benefit from faster service, the CTA said. In later phases, Transit Signal Priority upgrades will make it possible for buses running behind schedule to communicate with traffic signals along each route to hold green lights longer or to shorten red lights.

These upgrades will be installed on Ashland from Cermak to 95th Street in Spring 2016; on Western from Howard to 79th Street by the end of 2016; and on Ashland from Cermak to Irving Park Road by the end of 2017, according to the CTA.

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