WASHINGTON -- Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is threatening to stop Metra "in its tracks" unless more African-Americans firms get work from a massive railroad construction project in his congressional district called the "Englewood Flyover."
"There is no way that this contract will fly," Rush told me in an interview.
Last October, Rush put on a hardhat and joined Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a groundbreaking ceremony at 63rd and State Street.
As LaHood wrote in his blog on Oct. 11, "the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago features one of the most hopelessly tangled railway bottlenecks in North America." Construction of the "flyover" bridge will "quickly put 1,500 men and women to work." Once built, the "flyover" will, LaHood said, "eliminate construction and backups" for 78 daily Metra commuter trains, 14 Amtrak trains and 46 freight trains.
Much of the money for the "flyover" comes from President Barack Obama's stimulus package -- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- designed to pump money into the troubled U.S. economy by creating jobs on infrastructure projects.
Rush is quoted in an Oct. 10 press release from LaHood's shop about what he wants from the project: "The potential construction jobs and contracts from the Flyover arrive right on time" for residents of the impoverished Englewood community.
The total price tag for the "flyover" is $133 million, and Metra on April 10 accepted bids for the major portion of the construction -- worth, Rush said, about $86 million.
Metra is in the process of analyzing the bids and Rush told me when I interviewed him Thursday in his Rayburn Building office here that he got a tip from a Metra source on Wednesday that none of the major bidders included African Americans -- except for a security contract worth about $110,000.
Rush wanted to sound an alarm now, he told me, before Metra board members vote on the contract. While there is no date for a vote, Metra next meets May 11.
"I want Metra to rebid this contract. There is no way that this contract will fly," Rush told me.
"And there is no way that Metra's trains will run in the City of Chicago if this is the contract. We will stop Metra in its tracks, OK, on the tracks, cause we are not going to sit back and allow this mega-million-dollar project to come into our neighborhood, where unemployment is sky high," he said.
Englewood will get "all the dust, the delay, the dirt but none of the dough. We are not going to let it happen," Rush told me.
Metra spokesman Michael Gillis declined to comment on the accuracy of Rush's tip because, he said, the bidding process is not complete.
Gillis told me the transit agency did all it could to encourage minority bidders, working with Rush for two years to find companies that could be part of the project.
Metra held five events in Englewood to "educate" firms from the community and "team them up with prime contractors who could be bidding on the project," Gillis said. Metra also teamed with the state to help Englewood residents train for construction apprentice positions.
"We have done everything we can within the constraints of the law" and federal guidelines.
Said Gillis, "We cannot do more to create geographic, race or ethnic preferences under the law."