In the region's deteriorating bridges and ailing train stations is lucrative opportunity for a niche of businesses also in need of a helping hand: small, minority, and female contractors.

SEPTA is trying to play matchmaker.

With the agency planning more than $570 million in Philadelphia-area capital projects over the next two years - and more than $6.8 billion by 2026 - the transportation agency made a pitch Tuesday to involve more so-called Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in that work.

About 160 registered DBEs responded to invitations from SEPTA to attend a morning briefing on its "Rebuilding for the Future" construction program. The session, at the Bossone Research Center on Drexel University's campus, also served as the official launch of SEPTA's expanded DBE program, which helps small-, minority-, and female-owned businesses secure contracts with the transportation agency.

SEPTA's board in May authorized the expansion of that program to apply to all procurements over $100,000. Until then, the program applied only to federally funded projects.

State money is behind SEPTA's ambitious rebuilding program, made possible from increased transportation funding enabled by the November passage of Act 89. The new law provides, in part, for the state to gradually remove the limit on the wholesale tax on gasoline, and for other higher fees on motorists for services such as drivers' licenses and annual vehicle registration.

"As a result of the board's action in May, small, minority- and women-owned businesses will have greater opportunity to participate in the more than $500 million in state-funded projects SEPTA will be advancing over the next two years," and the billions of dollars in work planned for 10 years after that, SEPTA chairman Pasquale "Pat" Deon said Tuesday. He was joined at the information session by Lt. Gov. Cawley and Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr. (R., Berks/Chester/Montgomery), a leading proponent of Act 89.

SEPTA's goal is to have 13 percent DBE participation in Act 89-funded projects, said Mary Connell, director of the DBE Program Office.

The agency already has begun to award some of the $100 million in contracts expected to be issued this year. So those small, minority, and female contractors interested in some of the work could find themselves engaged "any day now," Connell said.

"They're turning all the time," she added, saying that as the Drexel briefing was underway, "there was a pre-bid meeting that was held almost the same time for one of those state projects."

Eligibility criteria and other information on SEPTA's DBE program can be found at

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