CTA's first federal-stimulus project: Dearborn subway

It was February 1951 when the Dearborn subway opened, almost a century after horse-car service began in Chicago. But like the concept of a horse-drawn carriage, the 58-year-old subway has acquired an air of antiquity.

Now, with an infusion of federal cash and a contractor lined up, CTA officials say they are moving fast to eliminate slow zones along the aging, deteriorating line. For the first of its federal-stimulus projects, the agency last week approved a contract to renew 36,000 feet of track in the Blue Line Dearborn subway. Construction is scheduled to begin in April.

Officials say the project will remove existing slow zones through the subway and prevent new ones. The improvements will come after the CTA eliminated 6,336 feet of slow zones in the Blue Line subway between the Damen and Clark/Lake stations in 2007 and 2008.

"The allocation of stimulus funding comes at a critical time for CTA as the agency needs funding to maintain an aging infrastructure," CTA President Rich Rodriguez said in a statement. "This project will create approximately 400 jobs locally over the course of the work and will allow the agency to continue its efforts to upgrade and modernize the system.

The CTA's slow zones are indeed evidence of doddering track lines. At one point, slow zones occupied more than 22 percent of the CTA's rail system. Officials say that figure is down to 8.5 percent of the rail system since the start of their slow-zone elimination projects.

The CTA's rail system includes 224.1 miles of track.

CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said federal funds will pay for only part of the $88 million project. The contract awarded to Kiewit-Reyes, a joint venture between two Illinois construction companies, includes $56.6 million in stimulus money.

The choice of Kiewit-Reyes is significant because part of it, the Markham-based Reyes Group Ltd., is considered what federal transportation officials call a disadvantaged business enterprise. The federal government requires that programs assisted by the U.S. Department of Transportation ensure nondiscrimination of contracts. Many DBEs are owned by women and minorities.

Elgin-based Kiewit Western Co. is a subsidiary of Kiewit Construction Co., based in Omaha, Neb. According to CTA records from 2003, Kiewit owns 80 percent of the joint venture. Since the Reyes Group owns the remainder, the two companies can jointly qualify as a DBE.

CTA officials say the companies secured the contract with a competitive bid.

Adrian G. Uribarri is a journalist based in Chicago. He covers transportation for the Daily News.