EAST ST. LOUIS, IL (AP) Both sides said they were pleased with progress being made in discussions between the state’s transportation chief and a group of black contractors that had been threatening to shut down a stretch of busy Interstate 64.
The two sides met behind closed doors and agreed to meet again to discuss giving minority subcontractors a larger slice of highway construction.
The Metro East Black Contractors Organization and others had been planning a civil disobedience demonstration similar to one in 1999, when more than 120 people were arrested during a sit-down shutdown on Interstate 70 in St. Louis.
The contractors were ready to proceed with the demonstration before receiving a letter from IDOT Secretary Tim Martin that agreed to the initial meeting.
Mike Claffey, an IDOT spokesman, said, “We believe it was a productive meeting. We’re planning to talk to them next week.”
Eric Vickers, a spokesman for the contractors group, said they emphasized their desire for “more contracts and more work for black workers in East St. Louis.” He added that it was not just a “vent session” because problems were identified and solutions were presented.
The contractors have said that the state plans more than $500 million in road improvement projects on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River near St. Louis over the next six years. But they argue that two contracts recently awarded by the state transportation department include little representation by minority subcontractors.
But IDOT has said that one of the projects has met the state goal that 22 percent of its subcontractors be minorities or women. The second project –– for road work on I-64 –– was awarded before Illinois increased the goal to 22 percent and has about 10 percent minority participation.