Eisenhower was president, poodle skirts were fashionable and the Illinois tollway was signing up towing companies back in 1958.
Some of those companies are still with the agency, which is one indication it's time to shake up the selection process, officials agreed Thursday.
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In most cases, drivers are free to call whatever towing company they want in the event of a breakdown or accident. But when it's a hazardous situation or a vehicle is blocking a lane, tollway authorities or Illinois State Police at the scene will opt for towing operators who are contractors.
Tollway towing contractors must respond within a certain period of time, carry specific insurance and possess a variety of equipment. Unlike other agency contracts, there's no expiration date. Qualified would-be contractors are kept on file until there's an opening.
"It's a good idea to go out to the market on a regular basis," general manager of traffic and maintenance John Benda said, adding the change was not intended to punish good contractors. "For those (contractors) who may be complacent, this is a wake-up call."
Currently, "they remain as an agent forever and ever unless we throw them off or they go out of business," Benda said.
Benda proposed opening up and advertising towing opportunities. Contracts would be limited to a certain amount of years, such as five, and disciplinary measures or termination procedures would be standardized.
Officials said they wanted towing contractors who have performed well to reapply.
Meanwhile, tree service owner Vince Winkler complained to board members that a recovery contractor, Lin-Mar Towing, had overbilled him and done a poor job when a truck with wood chips was disabled in May.
The agency's towing policies are "mind-boggling to me," he said at a tollway customer service company.
Officials said they investigated the contractor's work and found workers brought the wrong equipment to tow the trailer carrying wood chips that cracked in the middle on a Tri-State Tollway ramp at I-290 on May 30. They directed Lin-Mar to cut about $3,500 from the bill and suspended the contractor for two months.
Lin-Mar did not return a call seeking comment.
Tow operators are assigned to specific geographic areas; the tollway divides incidents into towing or recovery cases. There are 30 companies that cover standard towing and crash clearance, and nine recovery services, which handle major incidents often involving large trucks or material spilled on the road.
Tollway Director Jeff Redick and board Chairman Paula Wolff both said they wanted Benda to explore assigning more than one towing company to a geographic area. Redick also asked the staff to ensure that all customers be able to use credit cards.