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Chinatown-area riders to endure more CTA headaches

Riders who use the Cermak-Chinatown station just can't catch a break.

Five years ago, a semi-trailer truck crashed into the station escalator, killing two people and injuring about two dozen more.

Over the next few years, the CTA overhauled the station by building a new stationhouse, installing a new elevator and replacing the stairs and escalator. During this time, the CTA closed entrances and rerouted buses to the station, which formally reopened in spring of 2011.

Now the station will close Sunday, this time for five months, as the CTA rebuilds the Red Line track south of Roosevelt Road. The aim of the project is to rid the line of slow zones that have plagued it for months. The closure presents another setback for transit on the Near South Side, which was starting to rebound in the aftermath of the semi-trailer collision.

The Cermak-Chinatown station last year saw 1.6 million entries, a 13 percent increase from 2011, the second highest percentage ridership increase behind the Rosemont Blue Line stop.

This growth has occurred in spite of the slow zones near the station, some of the worst of the Red Line. About 45 percent of Red Line track is under slow zone, areas in which trains travel 35 miles per hour or slower.

This closure to fix the slow zones may cause more headaches in the Chinatown area than in neighborhoods to the south. Other stations, such as the Sox-35th and Garfield stops, have Green Line counterparts a few blocks away.

But construction on the Cermak Green Line station, in between the Roosevelt and 35th/Bronzeville/IIT Green Line stops, won't begin until this summer.

Shuttle buses to the Cermak-Chinatown station from the Roosevelt station are expected to run every 9 minutes during the morning rush hour and every 8 1/2 to 9 minutes in the evening rush hour, which is not as frequent as the shuttle buses running every 3 to 5 minutes from the 95th station, though the 95th station sees many more riders.

Area residents said they plan to allow extra time for commuting during construction.

"I guess I would go to the [Cermak-Chinatown] station and take a bus to Roosevelt and then get on the train," said Evelyn Siple, 24, of Bridgeport. "I'll have to leave earlier definitely."

Meanwhile, South Loop resident Ricky Watkins of the South Loop said he typically uses the Red Line to travel to the 79th Street for his job in medical billing.

"I'll have to leave a hour earlier and catch the State Street bus," said Watkins, 47.

Chinatown residents do have an alternate to the CTA. The Chicago Water Taxi has been operating boats on the Chicago River to Chinatown since 2009.

Last year, the taxi company recorded more than 37,000 riders at the Chinatown dock, sales and marketing director Gregg Pupecki told RedEye Tuesday.

The Chinatown boats stop at Michigan Avenue, LaSalle/Clark Streets and Madison Street. A one-way ticket between Michigan Avenue and Chinatown costs $6 on weekdays.

Pupecki said his company this year added a boat to its lineup, increasing capacity by 150 riders to help with Red Line construction demand. The Chinatown service will go from weekends-only to daily on May 28, nine days after the Red Line shutdown begins.

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