The Illinois tollway is closing in on a deal with a consulting engineer after protests from its current firm for not renewing a contract.
Committee members on Wednesday approved an $84.5 million, 4½-year contract with WSP USA Inc., formerly Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., for the consulting job. The full board will vote on the decision next week.
The outgoing consulting engineer AECOM objected last fall when directors with little explanation ignored a staff recommendation to award it a three-year $43 million contract renewal.
WSP would be paid about $18.8 million a year, compared to $14.3 million in AECOM's proposal.
The difference is related to the board deciding in April to widen the Central Tri-State Tollway instead of just rebuilding it, which adds $2 billion to the road program, officials said.
AECOM worked as consultant for five decades. As it helps the agency transition and conduct a bond sale later this year, AECOM will receive up to $17 million as a result of two separate contract extensions, one for $8.5 million approved Wednesday.
AECOM officials told state regulators in November the agency acted improperly when the firm wasn't rehired. Those protests were not upheld.
The tollway in 2017 advertised again for a consulting engineer but AECOM did not apply. The firm did not reply to a request to comment.
The board in March awarded AECOM a $33 million contract to design the rebuild of the Central Tri-State. Wednesday, committee members increased the contract by $45 million explaining that took into account the more ambitious plan.
With WSP, "we are going to take full advantage of having a new set of eyes to look at everything and give us their professional opinion," tollway Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs said.
"They do have consulting engineer contracts with other big transportation agencies. We selected them as most qualified according to our qualifications-based selection process."
The consulting engineer conducts inspections, evaluates road conditions and issues an annual report. The tollway is required to have one under its trust indenture to borrow money.
Parsons Brinckerhoff, now WSP, has a number of ongoing contracts with the tollway including work on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90).
Asked how to avoid conflicts of interest and prevent either firm from scrutinizing its own performance, Kovacs said in such cases the consultants could review each other's work and a third engineering professional, HNTB Corp., was also available.
"We have full flexibility to make sure there is no conflict for any one of them," he said.
Director Joseph Gomez said he was pleased at the number of minority and disadvantaged subcontractors involved with the WSP contract.
"We want to give everyone a fair shot ... after all, these are taxpayer dollars," he said.