New Wilson Red Line train station offers more flexibility, better looks, and a long wait


The Gerber Building, at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Broadway, will be restored to original architectural heritage. 

The Chicago Transit Authority held an open house-style meeting on Thursday at Truman College (1145 W Wilson Avenue) in view of its subject, the Wilson Red Line train station (read last week’s article). The CTA’s plans, estimated to cost $203 million dollars, give the rebuilt station three entrances: the main entrance will be on the south side of Wilson Avenue; an auxiliary entrance will be on the north side of Wilson Avenue to the west of the Gerber Building (which hosts an entrance from Broadway currently); there will be an auxiliary entrance on Sunnyside Avenue with direct access to Target and Aldi stores.

CTA’s director of communications and media relations, Brian Steele, summarized the project:

The Wilson station will become a main transit hub along our north side corridor but also a community amenity. This is the the first new transfer station since Library in 1997 which will provide new flexible trip choices and a better transportation option in a vibrant community.


Rendering of new Gerber Building.

One example of new trip choice is that commuters who are heading downtown in the morning starting from a Red Line station south of Howard can transfer to the Purple Line Express at Wilson instead of Belmont and potentially have a shorter trip. The ability to transfer at a station several stops from Belmont and Howard can help redistribute passengers amongst crowded Red Line trains and less crowded, but faster, Purple Line Express trains.


Neighbors talk to CTA staff and view information display boards. 

Many website comments (here and other places) dealt with the local environment’s nature of having crime, drug deals, and people urinating. I asked Alderman James Cappleman (46th ward) at the open house to talk about some of these neighborhood issues.

He first noted that the Urban Land Institute (ULI) conducted a study about the station and environs, for the second time, which says that the addition of a new station (upgrade, renovation, new, it doesn’t make a difference), doesn’t by itself make a difference (here’s background information). Cappleman said it’s necessary to protect the affordable housing stock, and work with neighbors, police, schools, community groups, social services organizations, and police (he said it twice for emphasis), to reduce crime and poverty in the area.

He specifically mentioned that the arrest rate for drug abuse is over 10 times the city average, and that in the Census tract containing the train station, over 50% of households are considered to be below the poverty line (which changes often based on the nation’s changing incomes). The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Cappleman explained, considers a “healthy community” to be one with 25% or fewer households below the poverty line. He ended with, “When that study’s released, we’ll start discussing how to deal with that [the relationship of the station to crime and perception of crime]”.

Joseph Musco attended the meeting, too, looking for insight and answers to the changing costs of the project, where they’re being spent, and their sources. He noted that the estimated cost of the project increased from $135 million in November 2011 to $203 million now. Don Gismandi, capital grants manager, was standing next to the funding sources chart and informed me that in the past year CTA has continued its engineering studies which resulted in more accurate cost estimates.

I asked CTA for a breakdown of costs, which they could not provide, as “project components as project plans have not yet been finalized” and “details on how much each project components will cost will also depend on the contractor selected following the competitive bid process, which is not expected to take place until early 2013”.


Funding sources chart.

Here are other attributes of the project:

  • Construction will last 33 months during which the CTA will operate a neighborhood business campaign in the same style as the one it ran during the Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project. The station will remain open.
  • The Gerber Building will be restored and CTA, along with its real estate manager Jones Lang LaSalle, will seek the right developer to build out the space.
  • The viaduct that carries Track 4 will be removed; 4 tracks will be constructed.
  • All track and the track structure will be replaced with a concrete aerial viaduct, much like the viaduct at Belmont and Fullerton stations. This provides a smoother ride and is quieter for the neighborhood.
  • For accessibility, there will be an elevator at the main entrance and ramps at the Sunnyside Avenue auxiliary entrance.
  • View all photos for this story
  • View the display boards (.pdf)

Take Action

For more information, visit the CTA’s website. The CTA invites comments about the project:

Updated October 12 to correct quotes and paraphrasing of Alderman Cappleman. Added link to display boards. Added cost estimate quote from CTA. 

26 thoughts on “New Wilson Red Line train station offers more flexibility, better looks, and a long wait”

  1. Unless the figures I was given are wrong, the reconstructions of Fullerton and Belmont cost $40M each. Those had a seemingly similar amount of work. How in the hell is this costing 5 times as much?

    1. I asked that question, too.

      I believe Belmont and Fullerton were about $55.5 million each in 2012 dollars (the contract was awarded 7 years ago). The main difference is that they had far less track work to do than Wilson station. The 4 tracks (one of which is independent of the others) will be replaced by a concrete aerial structure from about Leland Avenue to halfway between Montrose Avenue and Sunnyside Avenue. As the track crosses Broadway at an angle, and they are not using median pylons, the track structure is braced by large cross beams.

      I’ve asked for a cost breakdown, but it won’t be too detailed yet as it hasn’t gone out to bid.

      Another major cost is the architectural restoration.

      1. okay, even at $55.5M, $203M still seems like a really steep price. Belmont has new structure from Barry to maybe half the long block south of school. Call it 3 short blocks (3/16 mile). Fullerton is almost identical, from Montana down to Belden, 3/16 mile. Leland to between Montrose and Sunnyside is 5/16 mile, so yes, that’s longer, but I question why it’s needed. Start south of Broadway and go down to between Montrose and Sunnyside, it’s 1/2 mile. Basically, why is the Broadway overpass part of this project when it should be part of the Red Line North project?

        1. Why wait 10 years to build a new track structure over Broadway (where the current structure makes bicycling there less comfortable) when it can be done now?
          I’m waiting for a cost breakdown and I will update the post when I receive it.

          1. Because that’s a HUGE amount of money into one small area that could be spread out with the money needed for the bridge waiting for the big multi-billion dollar project.

          2. How do planners balance serving existing traffic patterns with creating new improved patters and volumes? Wilson Station had 2.5% of Red Line traffic in 2011. There is almost no foot traffic on Montrose where the additional Sunnyside entrance will exit. If Wilson Station @ $203M is a great deal based on some future traffic patterns and volumes then CTA should share what they think future traffic volumes will be at Wilson. At today’s rider volumes and foot traffic in the area, I’m not seeing the value in an investment this size.

          3. I asked the PR staff for ridership projections and they had to ask the planning department, so it will be a couple days until I have their response to post.

    2. A friend pointed out to me that the Roosevelt University tower (“vertical campus”) cost $110 million. It’s odd to think that a 32-story building (built in less time) will cost almost half the amount of a single, 2-line, rapid transit station.

      1. Private development versus Public development. General Construction versus Mass Transit. Like anything else in this country, if it is being paid for with taxpayer dollars it goes through a flawed contractor bidding system and with any mass transit project in this country, they are are overpriced when compared to out global counterparts.

      2. If you think that is odd, the parking garage structure at Truman College with 1 story of administrative offices in the ground floor cost $55 million dollars less than 2 years ago. Roosevelt got just a slightly better deal 😉

  2. It looks like the Gerber building only has a small auxiliary entrance in it. Did anyone say what the rest of the building would be used for?

    1. It’s not clear if the Gerber Building is connected to the auxiliary entrance. I wrote that the CTA will work with Jones Lang LaSalle to find the right developer for the space.

      1. I was told at the meeting that there will be the potential of access from the north auxiliary exit into the Gerber building, depending on the ultimate usage. If you look really closely at the presentation board focused on transit-oriented development (slide 18), you can see a doorway into the back of the Gerber. Presentation boards here:

        I’ve posted a full review of the Wilson design on CTA Station Watch:

  3. I’ve been told that Alderman Cappleman is against having a southern auxiliary exit to Sunnyside. Did you get that sense when you spoke with him?

  4. An estimated breakdown of track vs. station costs is not a detail.

    The inflation adjusted cost of the Harold Washington Library is $280 million. The inflation adjusted cost of remodeling Ogilvie (NW) Station is $226 million. At $203 million dollars, Wilson Station is the most expensive station project in CTA history. According to CTA, Wilson has 2.5% of the total Red Line boardings. How did the City of Chicago decide to spend $203 million on station that amounts to the 13th busiest station on the Red Line?

          1. I agree. The CTA board, a majority of which is appointed by the mayor, is under no legal obligation to accept the mayor’s nomination for CTA president.

  5. Steven, did CTA officials mention any other service changes? It would be great if Purple Line trains moved back to the center tracks to skip Diversey, Wellington, and Armitage. Otherwise the “express ride” isn’t so express; starting at Wilson, it’s nine more stops to the Loop regardless of which train you ride.

Leave a Reply to tb Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *