South Side construction project to create jobs

October 10, 2011 2:46:39 PM PDT
Construction began Monday on a project designed to relieve traffic congestion along rail lines on Chicago's South Side.

In addition, 1,500 people will be put to work on the "Englewood Flyover" project.

A small army of politicians descended on a South Side railroad junction Monday morning. They came to get what credit they could for a taxpayer-funded public works project to speed up train traffic to and from Chicago.

It is a simple but expensive solution for a many-decades old problem. The Norfolk Southern and Rock Island tracks intersect at 63rd and State streets, causing trains on one line to stop while another passes. For $133 million, workers will build a bridge to elevate the Rock Island tracks so that Metra trains will not have to stop, and below the bridge they will construct a second set of Norfolk Southern tracks to carry high-speed Amtrak trains.

"What does it mean when freight traffic and passenger traffic can move through this city more quickly? More jobs," said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

Contractors will hire 1,500 workers to build what's called the Englewood Flyover. Federal stimulus and state public works monies allocated over two years ago will fund the project.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it the kind of infrastructure the nation could build more of if Congress passes President Barack Obama's jobs bill.

"For right now, let's put America to work," said LaHood. "That's what we need to do. That's what the American people want. That's what the unemployed want. Let's do it."

"We're doing the best we can to get the most people from the neighborhood to participate in the project," said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

"That's all this is gonna be is another dog and pony show," said Englewood Bob Israel. "They're not gonna hire nobody from the community."

Israel says he has seen politicians break ground for public works projects in African-American neighborhoods, but he has not seen very many black workers hired.

"I'm tired of them talking about, they're going to come to the community and hire guys from the community, and it never happens," Israel said.

With African-American unemployment nearly double the statewide rate, Congressman Bobby Rush says he will monitor hiring on the Englewood project, threatening to shut it down if not enough neighborhood workers are hired.

"They are either going to cut the unemployed people in Englewood and the surrounding communities...or they are going to cut it out. That's just the bottom line," said Rush.

Hiring for the project began some time ago. The work actually got under way Monday morning.

This project is a critical link to the development of so-called high-speed rail between Chicago and St. Louis. It is not uncommon for an Amtrak train to have to wait 20-30 minutes in Englewood whether it is going to or from Chicago.

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