The chief executives of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Philadelphia-centered Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) signed a “reciprocity agreement” on January 9 that would allow historically underutilized businesses or HUBs to work for both agencies via a single small business enterprise (SBE) certification.
That agreement took place under the auspices of the Equity in Infrastructure Project (EIP), an organization founded in 2022 to encourage state and local agencies into hiring traditionally underrepresented companies – such as minority- and women-owned businesses – as prime contractors.
Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – which hosted the signing ceremony at its Washington, D.C., headquarters – noted during the event that increasing the participation of HUBs within the transportation and infrastructure sectors is “a subject extremely important” to both state departments of transportation and AASHTO.
He referenced a resolution signed by AASHTO’s board of directors in November 2020 as an example of the state DOT community’s ongoing commitment to address issues related to race, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Tymon added that six state DOTs – representing California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, and Michigan – signed a broader pledge sponsored by EIP in October 2021 that seeks to improve public contracting practices to help build generational wealth and reduce the racial wealth gap by creating prime, joint venture, and equity contracting opportunities.
“It’s about state DOTs sharing best practices on equity, diversity, and inclusion with transit agencies and others within the broader transportation community,” he noted. “This is something our members are looking for.”
CTA and SEPTA were two of the original five signees of the EIP’s equity in contracting pledge and the reciprocal agreement they signed on January represents “the next step” in that equity initiative, Dorval Carter Jr., CTA’s president and vice chair of the American Public Transportation Association.
“It is not only about opening up new opportunities for disadvantaged businesses in underserved communities. It also means that I, as a transit agency, end up with a bigger pool of companies competing for my projects,” he added. “Safe to say, that kind of competition is good, for its drives down [project] costs for my agency.”
Carter noted, however, that the first step in this process is to “institutionalize” equity practices and contracting opportunities for HUBs within his agency’s structure. “Signing the pledge is that first step towards institutionalizing these practices within our agency so they’ll continue to grow long after I am gone from its leadership chair.”
That also means taking steps to build what the EIP hopes will become a national HUB certification and database model, so disadvantaged businesses can apply for infrastructure project work regardless of jurisdiction and without having to take on extra paperwork.
“It’s about providing opportunities to companies and people who have not had them before,” noted Leslie Richards, SEPTA’s CEO and general manager – adding that the specific pledge her agency and CTA signed creates a “reciprocal” HUBs certification model between Chicago and Philadelphia.
“This creates more equal access for all businesses – impacting not only our two areas but the broader transportation industry for the long term,” noted Richards, who previously served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
“The ability to work in more than on jurisdictional area without taking additional paperwork is a huge gain and I am proud to be part of this systemic change taking place from the ground up,” she said.
“This signing ceremony is recognition of some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ issues holding back historically underutilized businesses – and it also benefits them by broadening the pool or prime and subcontractor firms that can bid on projects,” noted John Porcari, one of EIP’s co-founders, at the event.
“This is a way to bring broader infrastructure benefits to the public and to the communities,” he added. “At the end of the day, it delivers better quality of life for transportation system users and generational wealth opportunities for underutilized businesses.”
“We are hoping this reciprocity model becomes both a national certification model and database in the future,” emphasized Phillip Washington, chair and cofounder of EIP and CEO of Denver International Airport. “Minority businesses can now more easily do [transportation] work in both Chicago and Philadelphia. That is how you help build generational wealth.”