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posted: 9/20/2012 5:30 AM

How objective are $1 million tollway consultants?

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  • Daily Herald file photoTollway construction work in the last and current decade will leave lots of work for consulting firms.

      Daily Herald file photoTollway construction work in the last and current decade will leave lots of work for consulting firms.

 
 

The Illinois tollway hopes to learn from its last major construction program before ramping up a new road building initiative, so it's moving to hire an independent consultant to review the record and recommend improvements.

But the fact that the consultant, Hill International Ltd., had an oversight role in previous tollway road-building projects has raised some questions about how objective the $1 million study will be.

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Members of the tollway's finance committee on Tuesday approved a contract with the New Jersey-based construction management firm to scrutinize the agency's current and past construction practices. The idea is to have an independent adviser help tollway leaders "apply lessons learned and best practices" and ultimately reduce costs for its new $12 billion Move Illinois road building program.

The firm "will review our internal processes as we ramp up for (Move Illinois)," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said. "They'll do testing to make sure we got what we paid for."

However, in 2005, Hill International undertook a related mission for the tollway -- construction program oversight monitoring -- at a cost of $1.5 million. "Hill will monitor the services of the various consultants, engineers and contractors" working on systemwide construction programs, a 2005 Hill news release stated. "By acting as an independent adviser, Hill will report on the effectiveness of the implementation of the Congestion Relief Plan."

Asked if Hill can offer an independent analysis given that it was paid to monitor the Congestion Relief program in 2005 and now it's being paid to assess how well that worked, tollway officials said there is no conflict.

"Hill was awarded a contract in 2005 to track Congestion-Relief Program budget and processes," spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis said in an email.

"No Hill personnel involved in the prior work will be involved in the new contract, which will focus on construction management and quality assurance. The staff of this project will not include any staff involved with prior tollway projects and will be totally separate from them."

The consultants will also evaluate tollway procedures involving contracts and assess past construction projects to ensure they complied with engineering specifications.

"No Hill personnel served as designers or construction managers on our previous program, so they will not be auditing any work they previously performed," McGinnis said.

"For example, under the previous contract Hill tracked the project management office to verify Congestion-Relief Program schedule and budgets were met. The new contract will audit previously completed Congestion Relief construction projects to verify that the work met industry standards and best practices, and that it was done according to the tollway specifications set for each contract."

Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Council, a good-government group, said it was a "good idea to have the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority conduct an evaluation."

But, "as to which entity does it, if an entity that had a part in the process is evaluating performance, what kind of stopgaps are in place to ensure that it is an objective evaluation?" she asked.

The contract goes to the tollway board next week.

Move Illinois includes building an interchange at I-57 and the Tri-State (I-294), extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east to the airport and widening the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90).

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