By Tracy Swartz
Red and Blue Line riders, you may finally soon get to use your cell everywhere on the “L.”
The CTA announced Monday it is one step closer to enhancing its underground wireless network to improve cellphone connectivity in its Red and Blue Line subways.
The agency last fall sought to find businesses that could upgrade the CTA’s subway network to 4G technology. Now the agency is asking bidders to detail specifics on how they would design and install a cellular system.
These plans are due by mid-March. The CTA anticipates awarding a contract by summer 2014 for work to begin later this year.
“The good news is, we’re moving along,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. “How long it will take to do this, we don’t know.”
Chase would not say how many bids the agency had received or how much these improvements will cost. At a December press conference at the Logan Square Blue Line station, CTA president Forrest Claypool estimated a Blue Line upgrade would cost $27 million.
The wireless upgrade will accompany a $492 million Blue Line track and station rehab over the next four years.
The CTA said its wireless infrastructure dates back to 2005. There are 12 miles of subway on the Red and Blue lines. Nine Red Line and 12 Blue Line stations are underground—nearly 15 percent of the CTA’s system.
Since 2006, the CTA has had contracts with wireless providers such as U.S. Cellular and AT&T to lease the wireless infrastructure. These contracts generate about $1.8 million in annual revenue, the CTA said. These agreements are not expected to change amid the network improvements.
“The idea is to do this upgrade and not affect the service that’s already in place,” Chase said.
The CTA is holding a public hearing Tuesday about transforming the Wilson station into a transfer station for the Purple Line and upgrading the station to make it accessible for riders with disabilities. The hearing will be held 6 to 8:30 p.m., Uplift Community High School, 900 W. Wilson Ave.