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.
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.
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 â€” mostly bricklayers â€” 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.