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More Tollway troubles

Monday, Feb 27, 2006

The Sun-Times alleges more pay to play at the Tollway.

A company whose owners donated heavily to Gov. Blagojevich has seen a $150,000 state contract to package and deliver tollway I-Passes to Jewel-Osco stores balloon into a $7 million deal despite not being the lowest bidder.

Originally hired in 2003 for a six-month job involving just 25,000 I-Pass transponders, IGOR the Watchdog Corp. has since helped place the wallet-sized devices in more than 1.1 million cars and trucks through sales at Jewel.

The tollway twice extended IGOR’s contract without rebidding it and significantly upped its dollar value on five separate occasions. All this was perfectly legal and absolutely necessary, tollway officials say.

“The changes in the IGOR contract are directly tied to the unprecedented growth of the I-Pass program,” said Joelle McGinnis, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. “Since retail sales and the addition of more I-Pass-only lanes were unprecedented efforts, the tollway had no way to gauge how much the demand for transponders would increase.”

And then there’s this brick story that refuses to die.

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Judy Baar Topinka on Sunday alleged that politics and campaign donations to Gov. Rod Blagojevich played a role in the state’s decision to use bricks to build expressway sound walls.

State Treasurer Topinka said the Illinois Toll Highway Authority’s decision to switch from concrete to brick sound barriers came after the local bricklayers union donated $20,000 to Blagojevich’s campaign.

“How can the governor continue to sell Illinois … in exchange for campaign contributions and not expect to get caught?” Topinka said in a written statement.

But a Blagojevich campaign spokesman said the contributions have nothing to do with the decisions made about the materials used in the tollway system.

And this.

The state’s top Republicans are calling for an investigation into a recent tollway decision to start making sound walls with brick instead of cheaper precast concrete.

Several state lawmakers Thursday asked Attorney General Lisa Madigan to see if the change in tollway policy has anything to do with a $20,000 contribution from the bricklayers union to the campaign fund of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“They believe there is a process here that should have been done,” said Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson.

And this.

So the bricklayers win.

Two years ago, a tollway reform bill stalled in the General Assembly, due in part to a requirement that sound barriers along the tollway be made of brick instead of cheaper, precast concrete.

“Graft!” tollway reformers shouted.

“Wasteful!” penny-pinchers cried.

“Sham!” watchdog groups clamored.

But in 2006, everyone apparently came to their senses. Brick is good.

According to tollway officials, brick won’t cost that much more than concrete, and more people will be put to work — mostly bricklayers — which is good for the state. Besides, brick is prettier.

Long live brick!

“It’s favors for insiders, and this time it’s the bricklayers,” said lieutenant governor candidate Joe Birkett who dubbed it “pay to lay.”

Meanwhile, the tollway is requiring towns along the planned Interstate 355 extension from Bolingbrook to New Lenox to contribute at least $20 million of local taxpayer money toward interchanges near their towns.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Stosh - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 6:18 am:

    Who cares about the bricks? The tollway is flush with money from increasing tolls. And they will be getting money from local communities to build the interchanges.

    Besides, isn’t the state going to sell the tollway anyway?

  2. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 6:25 am:

    “…According to tollway officials, brick won’t cost that much more…”

    How much more? Oh, THAT much more.

    POA is the bricklayer and taxpayers are the bricks.

  3. - vole - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 6:28 am:

    Bricks as cheap as concrete? Hard to imagine. Like to see some real numbers.

    This would not be the first time that specs were written specifically to benefit an interest group financially. Or when specs were elevated far beyond the base needed to get the job done. Unfortunately there are too many public servants who cannot discern the difference. Sometimes the goal is to simply get the money spent in the timeframe that it is allocated.

    But then again, those brick layers are helping to create $100,000 per year jobs by buying burgers at the local McDonalds.

  4. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 7:22 am:

    If it takes one person to lay one brick, this thing will create millions (dare I say billions?) of jobs.

  5. - Cassandra - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 7:42 am:

    I don’t think the general citizenry is as aware as we should be of the huge influence of unions on political and governmental outcomes and on the cost of government. This rather small issue
    highlights the extent to which government is not run for the benefit of taxpayers but for the benefit of interest groups like unions, which are just as corrupt and sleazy as the private enterprises that pay to play. Unions pay to play too…a lot. And, for the most part, it’s the middle class taxpayer who pays the freight.

    As a taxpayer, when you see a union involved in some issue, assume they want your money, just like the rapacious Rezko, Kjellander, et al types.

    The solution is to prohibit any campaign contributions from potential contractors and from unions. Illinois is so corrupt, that won’t happen, though.

  6. - DOWNSTATE - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 8:58 am:

    Once again he produces enough bull manure to take care of all the farm fields south of I-80 and once again he thinks people are so stupid that they believe it.I hope that this kind of stuff will push this state into some of the toughest laws on contributions in the nation.That is were we need to be leading instead of one of the most corrupt states in the nation.

  7. - can't imagine - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 9:35 am:

    A couple bigger issues…FIRST…why did Scott Okun the IPass director take a fall? You really don’t think he would do this himself do you?
    Secondly, Marilyn Johnson as acting director?? OH my god. where are all the tollway directors or are they puppets for da GOV???

    oh what about Pace bus getting free use of the tollway??? what’s that all about? would that have happened in a non election year?
    Maybe Rod wants to get close to the bus drivers pension funds?

  8. - ISU REP - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 10:05 am:

    Wait for tolls to increase again to pay for this new brick…I can see the headline now “Tollway short on funds, Tolls to double for I-Pass users” You know atleast if you’re going to graft atleast make a better attempt to conceal it. Blago can’t govern and he certainly can’t hide his corrupt practices. The only thing he can do is make excuses.

  9. - ROD V. LISA V. MIKE - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 10:44 am:

    It sounds to me that in the coming weeks, Rod and Lisa might have discrepancies. As she is already allegedly investigating his office. The newspapers should pressure her for a determination of her “alleged” investigation. If not place pressure on Lisa, then place pressure on Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Divine for the results of his alleged investigation. It time for these people to talk now and not hold their determinations to the alleged investigations until after December 2006.

    Then as Rod and Lisa falls out, then you have Michael Madigan, the Chairman of Blago’s camp. What side does he chose; his daughter or the person that he wants to remain Governor so that the power stays in the party?

  10. - Reddbyrd - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 11:32 am:

    Can’t stop laughing. Which GOP(as in MOPE) rocket scientist sent BrickheadJoe out to investigate the brick walls? Talk about dumb. They really take the cake.
    Anybody ask why AccordianGal gave the Brickhead $70+K last week. Allowance? Tollway change?
    Notice he also got some cash from the same lawyers who get the “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. That sure looks like reform to me.

  11. - Phocion - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 11:33 am:

    I am glad that the government is insisting on more aesthetically pleasing materials. Many people spend hours a day on the toll roads. Many other residents who live nearby have to look at these walls.

    Isn’t it important for government to take the lead in promoting a better looking environment. What do you people want, the State Capitol to made of drivet because it’s cheaper that way?

  12. - ISU REP - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 11:56 am:

    LOL wow, Phocion works for the brick layers union…actually if they really want it to be pleasintg they should put up plasma screen tv’s i mean we don’t want it to look cheap after all. May i remind everyone that these really aren’t brick bricks, they are cement blocks shaped like bricks…can’t we just pay someone to chisel the existing walls to make them look like that…Yet another expense that’s riddiculous…they should use that money for something useful like free tanks of gas or car washes for ipass users! I mean if were going to waste money lets do it on something we all can appreciate…(note the sarcasm. P.S. if you didn’t want to look at the walls maybe you shouldn’t live by a tollway and perhaps you should spend more time focusing on the road then looking at the walls. You must be the guy whose always in front of me in the left hand on 355 doing 55, HAH I knew i’d find you eventually! :)

  13. - DOWNSTATE - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 12:13 pm:

    You can do almost any design with cement a lot cheaper than block laying and the colors are so identical that at 55 you would not notice the difference.I can see now why my insurance is so high all these people rubber necking at all these walls running into people.Just to be fair to the Governor we will ask him to let one of his no bid contracts to one of his out-of-state friends to do a study.

  14. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 12:48 pm:

    Birkett is not looking at bricks issue. Wrong again, Reddbyrd-brain.

  15. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 12:50 pm:

    How long until the Tribune, Daily
    Herald and/or S-T do a study on brick vs. concrete? It shouldn’t take long to do a quickie, unbiased comparison based on estimates from local construction companies.

    It does look bad that this largesse is happening at the same time the Tollway is expecting that $20 million payment from the I-355 communities.

    And I’ve seen some VERY aesthetically pleasing pre-cast concrete walls lately.

  16. - Sound Reasoning - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 12:58 pm:

    This is not really surprising news to find out yet another example of an entity making a sizeable contribution to the Blago campaign and then shortly thereafter receiving favorable treatment from an agency under Blago’s control.

    This just seems to be the latest case, among dozens of others, where a direct line is documented between contributions to Blago’s campaign fund and lucrative contracts from entities under the Governor’s control. In every single instance the response from the Governor’s spokesperson has been ‘there is no connection between the campaign contribution and the awarding of the contract’.

    If the citizens of this once great state believe that worn response then we deserve no better then our current Governor.

  17. - donchicago48 - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 1:10 pm:

    Blago uses the Illinois Tollway system as his own taxpayer-financed advertising agency. Anyone who travels the tollways or visits the tollway website, or receives email updates from the tollway system repeatedly sees Blago’s name and/or picture prominently displayed. His campaign should pay back the tollway system for the blatant advertising.

  18. - Papa Legba - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 3:27 pm:

    Reddbyrd- Since you are talking about people donating money to candidates they know or have ties to, I want to say one thing. Those who support candidates who live in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones.

  19. - NIEVA - Monday, Feb 27, 06 @ 6:24 pm:

    Instead of stones how about bricks?

  20. - yeahipayem - Friday, Mar 31, 06 @ 5:59 am:

    Tell me again, why did we need walls? I don’t remember fixing every other issue we had.

  21. - Truth B Told - Friday, Apr 28, 06 @ 1:22 am:

    All of the cost estimates and events regarding the brick/block wall can be found in one location, the design engineering firm documents all of ISTHA changes and directions to cover themselves. I’m sure they have some unbelievable stories. Look no further!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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