African-American politicians are demanding more minority participation in the $133 million Metra bridge construction project in Englewood, calling the lack of jobs for Blacks “an absolute travesty.”
The Metra railroad bridge known as the Englewood Flyover project is designed to carry the Metra Rock Island trains over a set of tracks used by Amtrak and freight trains at 63rd and State. Currently, 78 Metra Rock Island trains and approximately 60 freight and Amtrak trains pass through the Englewood interlocker each weekday according to Metra.
Three Chicago-area Congressmen; Bobby L. Rush, Jesse L. Jackson Jr., and Danny K. Davis, wrote a letter to Larry Huggins, the acting chairman of Metra, questioning reports that Metra is going to “award less than one-half percent of the winning construction contract to African American firm and less than three percent overall to socially and economically Disadvantage Business Enterprises(DBEs).”
In a recent interview, Davis, who represents the 7th Congressional District, called the project “an absolute travesty; in terms of a proposed activity using public dollars and the affirmative action of the diversity component.”
While competing contractors say that the bid has been awarded to Elgin-based, IHC Construction Cos. LLC, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis is adamant that the contract has not yet been awarded.
“The board has not made a final decision of a bid yet,” said Gillis.
The Metra board is expected to make a decision at its July 13 board meeting. Davis and other officials and activists have vowed to attend that meeting.
Since the first outcry by Rush, Metra has since been on the defense, issuing a carefully worded fact sheet and limiting public statements on the project. Rush represents the 1st congressional district which covers a large swath of the Southside.
In a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Ray LaHood, Rush states, “you[LaHood]…and Metra Rail officials committed to working aggressively to provide real and tangible opportunities for minority contractors – particularly African American business enterprises- to access their fair share of contracts and jobs.”
According to his letter it also states that “Metra Rail will award less than one half percent of the winning construction contract to an African American firm and less than three percent overall to a Minority Business Enterprise.”
Congressmen Davis, Rush, and Jackson, have called on Metra to re-bid on the project.
IHC Construction placed a bid along with four other contractors; Walsh Construction/ II in One Joint Venture, Lorig Construction, FH Paschen/Nielsen and James McHugh Construction. IHC Construction placed the lowest bid at $93,435,835 according to its website. The four other companies confirmed through interview that they were not awarded the project.
On IHC Construction’s website, under bid results, the Englewood Flyover project is highlighted in yellow as the lowest priced bid.
“We have an apparent low bidder, however, we [Metra] have not made a final decision yet,” Gillis said in a follow-up interview.
As for the issue of minority contractors Gillis said, “We are following the federal laws set which is 25 percent of DBE firms.”
DBEs are defined as socially and economically disadvantaged individuals who are citizen of the United State and are Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian-Pacific, Native Americans and Women with a Personal Net Worth that does not exceed $1.32 million, according to a statement by Metra.
By federal statute, Metra is not allowed to set a minority target. If a bidder comes in, like IHC Construction Cos. LLS, and achieves the goal of 25 percent DBE they have met the federal mandate.
Maurice Perkins, president of the Bronzeville-based Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation, Inc. (ICYAF), a non-profit organization.
“When a minority contractors tries to work with a prime contractor, that prime contractor has really got to be in the spirit of mentorship,” Said Perkins. He and other activists attended a May board meeting demanding increased African American participation in the project.
“There has been an immense discrimination of African Americans in large projects such as the Flyover,” said Perkins.
The current completion date for the project is June 23, 2014, according to the Master State Rail agreement with IDOT. Metra anticipates the project taking 28 months to complete, putting the completion into the fall of 2014, given no unforeseen conditions or disruptions.
Article originally published on Chicago Talks.