Friction over Metra minority hiring resolved
The positive vibe at the groundbreaking of the Englewood Flyover in October hit a curve when South Side lawmakers and residents protested that black contractors were sidelined.
Tensions between Metra and the South Side community appear eased after the construction company building an expensive railway bridge agreed Monday to reach out to black-owned subcontractors.
Protesters including U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush filled a Metra board room in May accusing the agency of disenfranchising African-American firms bidding to work on the Englewood Flyover, a project aimed at reducing train delays.
Monday, the congressman and contractor IHC Construction reached an agreement in which its President David Rock pledged to partner and mentor African American-owned construction companies, allowing them to bid for 21 percent of the $93 million project. That equals about $19 million of work, Rush said.
"We now have community involvement ... now we can go ahead and do the right thing," acting Metra Chairman Larry Huggins said Monday at a special board meeting.
Metra directors agreed to hire Elgin-based IHC Construction and Elburn-based Illinois Constructors Joint Venture, the low bidders on the work.
"What looked like a very difficult situation has turned out to be a win-win," said Metra Director Paul Darley of Elmhurst.
Metra officials said in May they had reached out to minority firms and they had met federal requirements for the project.
However, Huggins, who grew up in Englewood, noted that the agency was considering how to better handle such issues in the future, possibly by reducing the size of construction contracts.
Some minority firms can face hurdles getting hired for public sector construction or engineering jobs if they lack funds to pay for performance bonds or expertise in complex government paperwork, officials said.
The Englewood Flyover is located at 63rd and State Streets in Chicago. Rush said it's important that the community where the construction takes place benefits from the project in terms of jobs, which will help fight crime.
The bridge will take Metra Rock Island trains over congested tracks used by Amtrak and freight railroads. Currently, more than 130 trains squeeze onto that set of tracks daily, causing traffic and delays.
The entire cost of the project is $141 million, with the federal government contributing $130.8 million, the state chipping in $7.7 million and Metra and freight railways making up the rest.
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