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Our Opinion: Up to Springfield to demand transparency, accountability for rail promises

It became apparent last week that a community organization’s worries about minorities being left out of the loop on hiring matters involving the 10th Street rail project have merit.

Last year, the Faith Coalition for the Common Good struck an agreement with city, county, state and federal officials to ensure Springfield’s minority and low-income residents receive some consideration through hiring and other aspects of the 5-mile-long, multi-million-dollar 10th Street rail relocation project.

The project involves moving train traffic from the Third Street tracks through the center of the city to the 10th Street tracks seven blocks east.

The relocation, while considered good for the city as a whole, has significant drawbacks for people who live near the 10th Street corridor, including a greater amount of rail traffic in their neighborhoods, construction of a series of underpasses and overpasses for vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and the acquisition of 150 parcels of land along the corridor that will displace some residents.

The current phase of the project is construction of an underpass on Carpenter Street.

The agreement between the Faith Coalition and government officials called for 30 percent of the jobs created by the project to go to low-income workers, minorities and women.

It also called for relocation assistance for residents who will be displaced by the land acquisition, as well as for input into planning and monitoring of the project by people affected by the project. The monitoring effort would include keeping tables on workforce hiring data and the use of minority subcontractors.

These were all fair requests for a project of this magnitude, particularly considering it is funded with money from the federal government, which already requires hiring monitoring by contractors.

Local officials promised to get on board, but five months into the Carpenter Street construction they seem to have been tripped up by the hiring monitoring. The Faith Coalition expected monthly reports about the workforce, but the information has yet to materialize.

Last week, an Illinois Department of Transportation spokesperson referred hiring monitoring questions to the City of Springfield. Mayor Mike Houston said IDOT keeps tabs on minority standards and that it should be providing the information to the coalition.

The confusion over who can or should provide the hiring data probably is more a product of governmental bureaucracy or a simple oversight than a case of someone intentionally ignoring the promises that were made to the community.

However, that doesn’t excuse those who oversee and benefit from the project from collecting and providing the data.

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