In May, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush twice staged demonstrations outside of Metra headquarters in the West Loop, demanding that the commuter rail include more African American and minority contractors in the proposed Englewood Flyover Project on the South Side. Rush promised a “long, hot sweaty summer” if Metra didn’t.
At that time, only $200,000 had been awarded to minority contractors for the multi-million dollar contract.
On July 17, Metra approved a $93 million contract for the bridge project to be located on the tracks near 63rd and State Streets. The contract was awarded to IHC Construction and Illinois Constructors Joint Venture, who agreed to have as much as 40 percent minority participation on the project, according to Metra board Chairman, Larry Huggins
Known as the Englewood Flyover, the bridge is expected to relieve rail traffic congestion for the 46 freight trains, 14 Amtrak passenger trains and Metra Rock Island commuter trains that pass through that corridor daily.
“We are here to announce that the Metra Englewood Flyover Project is now on the right track,” said Rush. “Local, qualified African American construction companies will receive the support they need to bid on up to 21 percent of the total construction cost. That’s more than $19 million worth of work and that’s just to start.”
Rush and other community stakeholders had complained that the previous amount of work awarded to African American contractors was an insult to the impoverished community where the project will take place. Englewood, located in the Democrat’s 1st Congressional District, is one of the city’s poorest communities with one of the highest unemployment rates, according to census data.
“We’re sick and tired of having all the dust, and all the dirt, and all the delay and none of the dough,” Rush said when he addressed the Metra board on May 11.
The issue prompted demonstrations outside of Metra’s headquarters back in the spring which drew participation from construction workers contractors, faith leaders and other elected officials. Huggins assured the protestors that Metra would be fair.
“As a board we are truly committed to the DBE process. We made that commitment in Washington and it’s this board’s intent to honor that commitment, Huggins said two months ago. “As an individual that grew up in the Englewood community, I truly understand the impact of what these projects bring to the community.”
Rush said that as part of the July 17 contract approval a community liaison would work to ensure that the opportunities for jobs and contracts are genuine; and the prime contractor, IHC, would offer community outreach, partnering and mentoring, amongst other provisions.
“So now we’re going to build a bridge that is not just a gigantic block of cement. We are building a bridge to the equal opportunity that this nation promises. We are building a bridge to African American inclusion in future construction work and professional services across this city and nation,” said Rush.
By Rhonda Gillespie