Metra approves $93M deal for Englewood bridge

July 16, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Some congressmen threatened to block the controversial plan because they felt the project was not providing enough jobs for African-Americans, but a deal has been reached.

South Side Rep. Bobby Rush is calling this a monumental victory that could set the standard for other public works projects in the region.

Despite having followed all the affirmative action guidelines last spring, Metra had accepted a $93 million bid on a railroad bridge in a black neighborhood that virtually shut out African-American contractors.

Rush and two of his colleagues went to work to change that outcome, and Monday, he announced the project was back on track.

A triumphant congressman rush held up the signed memorandum of understanding, the printed version of a general contractors' promise made last Thursday night.

"In the course of our conversation, that midnight conversation that we had with him, we were able to forge a final points of agreement," said Rush.

The dispute was over the role of African-American contractors in the so-called Englewood flyover railroad bridge project.

When Metra accepted general contractor IHC Construction's $93 million bid, the only black subcontractor listed was a security firm to be paid only $112,000, or barely one-tenth of one percent of a project in a virtually all-black neighborhood.

"There was no way that we could sit idly by," said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago).

Davis and Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. joined Rush in a vow to stop the flow of federal money. To make sure it was not stalled, IHC agreed to recruit more minority subcontractors and to pressure them to hire Englewood residents.

"We've taken the major subcontractors and asked for commitments out of them to bring some local hires on," said David Rock of IHC Construction.

Englewood has one of the city's highest unemployment rates and incidences of violent crime. Rush expects the flyover project to provide some good-paying jobs and says the past few weeks should be a lesson for young people there on how to bring change.

"Put down your pistols and pick up some protest signs," said Rush.

Rush says, if necessary, he will use the same strategy to make sure other public works projects that involve federal money include African-American contractors and workers.

Activists say that a big problem for black contractors is that fact that so many minority set-aside deals go to firms headed by white women who also are considered a disadvantaged class, making it very competitive on groups calling themselves minorities.

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