The Illinois Tollway today awarded some $132 million in construction contracts for roadway and bridge rehabilitation work that will start in 2012.
The package includes seven contracts that tollway board member David Gonzalez had balked at approving Wednesday after raising concerns about the tollway’s commitment to including minorities in its contracts and creating jobs in the south suburbs.
The tollway also gave final approval to the agency’s 2012 budget, which provides for nearly $609 million worth of capital projects, including funding for the first year of the agency's new 15-year construction program.
After a long discussion about tollway policy and practices to foster roles for disadvantaged businesses, including minority- and women-owned firms, the tollway board, by voice vote, approved the contracts.
Gonzalez said he “abstained” from approving the contracts that were deferred Wednesday, however, because he believes they did not have enough minority participation.
“(Tollway staff) addressed the concerned that I thought needed addressing,” Gonzalez said. “One of the reasons we deferred (some of) them was to have a better understanding by whole board” about the tollway’s diversity efforts, Gonzales said.
“(Tollway staff) is doing an excellent job right now,” Gonzalez said.
“They’ve allocated more money into the diversity program. My (action) was so the whole board could see the direction we were taking and see that we’re making a greater effort addressing those concerns,” Gonzalez said.
Job creation will be “the next step,” he said.
Gov. Pat Quinn appointed Gonzalez and four other new tollway members in October.
Gonzalez, the mayor of Chicago Heights, also called for creation of more jobs in economically depressed south Cook County, where he said unemployment was running 15 to 16 percent.
The disputed contracts were primarily for construction management on the Reagan Memorial (Interstate Highway 88), Tri-State (I-294) and Jane Addams Memorial (I-90) tollways.
Tollway officials, including Gustavo Giraldo, the newly hired chief of diversity, defended the agency's procedures for ensuring that disadvantaged business enterprises participate in tollway contracts.
Each of the major contractors whose bids were accepted achieved disadvantaged business participation goals set by the tollway, officials said.
But Gonzalez said Wednesday that wasn't good enough, pointing out that in most cases the disadvantaged business participation was barely more than the minimum required.
Gonzalez said he would only approve contracts that were "well above" the goals in the tollway's "mentor/protege" partnership program that promotes disadvantaged business participation.
The proposed contract awards include minority, women-owned and disadvantaged businesses participation commitments that range from 15.2 percent to 77.2 percent per contract, the tollway said Wednesday.
Nearly 24 percent of the total dollars spent in 2011 on construction and professional services went to disadvantaged businesses, the tollway said, compared to 12 percent in 2002.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun