Just months after AECOM Technical Services executives chastised the Illinois tollway for dumping their firm, the consultants were awarded a $33 million Central Tri-State design job.
The decision Thursday raises questions of whether AECOM will or should persevere in its bid to win a $43 million contract to continue as the tollway's consulting engineer.
The move also caused some friction on the board about the role of directors on a selection committee that recommends engineering contractors.
Last fall, in a split decision against staff recommendations, directors rejected renewing a contract with AECOM to be the agency's consulting engineer without any detailed explanations why. The firm has worked with the tollway for more than five decades.
AECOM filed complaints with state regulators, saying the agency showed a "blatant disregard" for the law by ignoring protocols for awarding contracts, but their objections were dismissed.
The tollway is required by law to have a consulting engineer that oversees projects and roads, conducts inspections and produces an annual report.
AECOM's contract should have expired at the end of 2016, but directors extended it for six months and have not chosen a long-term replacement.
Asked if a potential conflict exists in that AECOM should not be supervising its own work on the Tri-State job, board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said "it's an open procurement and it would be inappropriate for me to make a comment."
AECOM did not respond to a request to comment.
The tollway is considering an ambitious plan to rebuild and possibly widen the Central Tri-State.
"Obviously this is an important contract ... and we want to put together a good team," Schillerstrom said. "We felt they were the right group to be on the team.
"We used the law as a guide and obviously we tried to come up with the best company considering the criteria we laid out."
The vote on AECOM wasn't unanimous. Director Joseph Gomez abstained and questioned why Schillerstrom allowed another board director, the Rev. Corey Brooks, to participate on the selection committee that recommended AECOM.
While construction companies competitively bid for lucrative projects, state law has a different process for professional firms such as engineers. Applicants are first screened by tollway staff, then reviewed by a selection committee that ranks the top three.
The engineering selection committee includes tollway engineering, procurement and diversity staff members plus a retired engineering professor. The intent is to evaluate contracts based on qualifications without political interference.
Tollway directors have not sat on the committee before.
Gomez and Director Neli Vazquez Rowland asked that the board be informed of any similar moves in future.
Schillerstrom noted that ultimately the board awards professional contracts and it can be helpful for directors to be present and increase diversity on the committee.
"I see no reason why (directors) should be excluded," he said.
Meanwhile, the Tri-State rebuild drew a roomful of Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills area residents who pleaded with directors to scale back the project, saying it would destroy parks and homes, reduce the tax base and cause pollution.
"This will impose a hardship beyond explanation," Jerry Mejdrich of Hinsdale said.