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By Sean Ryan  – Reporter, Milwaukee Business Journal

Milwaukee officials plan to require contractors hire local workers to build the downtown streetcar, a policy that was banned until a recent change in federal rules.

Milwaukee’s local hiring program, which requires builders hire unemployed workers living in low-income neighborhoods, previously could not be applied to the streetcar. That would have limited the city’s ability to encourage local participation in the project, which likely will be led by out-of-state contractors that have built streetcars in other cities.

Construction is likely to begin this fall, with work on the streetcar’s track and overhead lines scheduled to begin in April 2016.

The federal government is funding about half of the streetcar, and traditionally bans local hiring mandates on projects using U.S. money. However, the U.S. Department of Transportation on March 6 rolled out a pilot program that allows local hiring mandates on certain projects, said Randy Crump, chief executive officer of Prism Technical Management & Marketing Services LLC, a consultant on the Milwaukee streetcar project.

Crump explained the change during a Thursday meeting of a city streetcar task force. He called it a “very pleasant surprise.” Ald. Robert Bauman followed up by calling it a “big deal.”

During the debate over the streetcar project, opponents such as Ald. Joe Davis questioned whether it would help Milwaukee’s minority residents. The creation of job opportunities for Milwaukee residents was a common response raised by streetcar supporters.

Milwaukee officials have applied for federal approval to enact local hiring requirements on the streetcar. Approval is anticipated, but has not been formally granted yet, said Ghassan Korban, Milwaukee Department of Public Works commissioner.

The city’s Residential Preference Program, or RPP, generally requires qualified local workers perform 40 percent of the hours on a construction project. The percentage has not been determined for the streetcar project, Korban said.

The city also applied for a federal DOT grant to implement a training program on the streetcar project, Crump said. That program is dubbed START, or Streetcar Training and Advancement for Regional Transportation Systems. The training opportunities on the streetcar could prepare workers for jobs on other transportation projects, Crump said.

In addition to hiring and training, the city plans other ways to spread the wealth from the $123.9 million streetcar project. Construction work on the downtown streetcar system, which does not include a spur to the lakefront, is estimated to cost $36.1 million.

The city plans to set a goal of almost 21 percent, or $7.48 million, of those contract dollars go to disadvantaged business enterprises, or DBEs, Crump said. According to federal policy, a DBE is a small business at least 51 percent owned by a “disadvantaged individual,” which includes minorities and women.

The city also will set DBE participation goals on the professional services work on the streetcar, which includes planning and design. That work is expected to cost $10.3 million, of which almost 18 percent, or $1.84 million, would be awarded to DBE firms under the city’s goal.

Those goals are out for public comment for the next 30 days, Crump said.

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