U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-1st, has vowed Metra will not get away with giving too few contracts to minority contractors for the Englewood Flyover Project on the South Side.
He led hundreds of protestors in a demonstration Thursday outside of the commuter rail company’s downtown office.
Demonstrators’ chants of “rebid the contract” indicated that more Black-owned companies wanted to get contracts from the $133 million project that includes construction of a new bridge that would help ease congestion at the 63rd and State Streets rail intersection. The bridge, or flyover, would lift north- and south-bound tracks over east- and west-bound tracks to help free up the bottleneck that often has Metra, Amtrak and freight trains that pass through there crawling through or stopping altogether to yield to trains passing through.
“I’m angry, but I’m determined,” Rush told the Chicago Citizen as he donned a hard hat, hoisted a picket sign and marched outside Metra headquarters.
He promised a “long, sweaty summer in the city of Chicago if in fact we don’t have access to these public works jobs and contracts. We’re starting with Metra.”
In October, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was joined by Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Rush, and elected officials representing the Englewood community where the construction would take place, along with other stakeholders, to announce the flyover project. It was said then that the project would create 1,500 jobs and impact more than 500 freight trains and 700 commuter trains – including Metra’s Rock Island District Line which serves the south suburbs and several South Side communities into downtown Chicago.
Critics of the project expressed at that time their concern that Englewood, a community ravaged by high unemployment, poverty and violence, according to census and police department data, would not get a slice of the economic pie from the project.
Rev. Leslie Sanders, pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church located in Englewood, told the Chicago Citizen that this can’t go on.
“We cannot continue to allow people to come in our community and do work and we’re not a part of it,” the pastor said while picketing outside of Metra headquarters. “We have people (in Englewood) who not only qualify but are willing to work. And our people will never be able to lift themselves out of poverty unless they are given the opportunity.
Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic church also demonstrated.
In a letter to Larry Huggins, chairman of Metra’s board of directors, the state’s congressional delegation said the current number of contracts on this project that have gone to minority-owned contractors — more specifically, Black ones — is “unacceptable.”
The letter, signed by Rush, U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, D-8th, and Jesse Jackson Jr., D-2nd, indicates that Metra is “prepared to award less than one half percent of the winning construction contract to an African American firm and less than three percent overall to socially and economically Disadvantaged Business Enterprises.”
Rush said he was blindsided with news of the volume of contracts going to minorities for this project, which will be funded mostly by federal dollars.
“I was very surprised. I thought that after negotiations with Metra and conversations with Metra, I thought we had an agreement in spirit. Obviously they reneged on it. I’m just angry that out of $76 million, they will only give our community $112,000,” Rush said. “We want them to rebid the contract.”
In a written statement to the media, Metra said it agrees with Rush that construction contracts for the project should be awarded in “as fair and equitable manner as possible.”
The statement explained that the rail company has a goal of having 25 percent DBE on the project.
Further, Metra claims to have spent $300,000 to help reach out to the Englewood community regarding this project.
“Metra has been actively engaged with the Englewood community, local elected officials, Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration for the past two years on this very issue,” according to the statement. “In advance of the construction procurement, Metra held seven DBE outreach events in the Englewood community to provide details on the project to potential DBE firms and attempt to qualify them to be ready to team up with the potential prime contractors that could bid on the project.”
Demonstrators Thursday included community activists, faith and civic leaders, other elected officials, contractors and other supporters.
A Metra spokesman has said the company is not done with the bidding process.
Rush told the protestors to meet him at Metra headquarters again this coming Friday for another demonstration that he plans to have as the rail company’s board meets.
Huggins said he could not comment on the contract bidding process or on any part of the congressmen’s letter to him. He did confirm with the Chicago Citizen, however, that the board would not be discussing the contract bidding at its meeting Friday.
“We will not call it up,” said Huggins. “I am not bringing it up on the agenda until possibly June.”
By Rhonda Gillespie