Metra delays awarding of contract after minority-contractor questions raised

Tribune reporter

Metra has postponed the awarding of a contract to build the $141 million  Englewood Flyover rail bridge on the South Side, a project that drew complaints today from three local congressmen that the project lacks adequate minority participation.

In a letter sent to the commuter rail agency, U.S. Representatives Bobby Rush, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Danny Davis, all Chicago Democrats, charged that Metra was preparing to award a contract that gave less than one percent of the work to an African-American firm, and less than three percent to a disadvantaged business enterprise.

“It is unacceptable that a public procurement process wherein millions of taxpayer dollars are expended could have at its very core the systemic disenfranchisement of a community of people,” the letter said.

Metra said Thursday the low bidder, Elgin-based IHC Construction Companies LLC, met the contract’s goal of 25 percent participation by disadvantaged businesses.

These can include black, Hispanic and woman-owned firms with a net worth of less than roughly $1 million, under federal law.

Metra had originally planned to award the contract May 11. In a statement, Metra said today it would postpone the awarding of the construction contract until its June 15 meeting.

Metra said it needs to ask the state for more time to construct the rail bridge, intended to relieve train congestion. The project was originally scheduled to be done in June 2014, but Metra said it now expects to take until the fall of that year.

Rush first raised the issue last week when he publicly threatened to stop the project unless more African-American firms got work.

Metra said today it agreed with Rush that the contract should be awarded in as fair and equitable manner as possible. It said it has worked for the past two years to ensure participation by disadvantaged businesses, and spent $300,000 in outreach efforts to the Englewood community.

“Metra will work with (whoever is) the successful bidder to identify opportunities for additional participation by DBE-certified firms. Metra is confident that (whoever is) the successful bidder will meet or exceed the DBE goals for this project,” the agency said in the statement. 

The railroad bridge is intended to ease rail flow on tracks used by Metra, Amtrak and freight railroads.
Twitter: @richwronski

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