Engineering firm fights $43 million tollway spurn

The Illinois tollway's longtime consulting engineer is protesting to state officials that the agency broke the rules when directors rejected renewing AECOM Technical Services' contract.

A majority of tollway directors in October ignored a recommendation from top staff to approve a three-year $43 million contract with Los Angeles-based AECOM, giving no explanation why they were severing a five-decade relationship.

The move was "improper" and flouts a law requiring government agencies to hire professional firms such as engineers and architects through a qualifications-based process, AECOM said.

Tollway directors showed a "blatant disregard of the law" and some were "openly hostile," complaints to the state's chief procurement officer and Illinois Department of Transportation stated.

"We followed the law," tollway Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said after a Thursday meeting.

AECOM officials asked IDOT and the chief procurement officer to instruct the tollway to award the contract to them. On Thursday, IDOT ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the tollway board.

"AECOM completed the Illinois Tollway Authority's rigorous procurement process, ultimately negotiating and signing a contract," said AECOM spokesman Brendan Ranson-Walsh. "We believe that both AECOM and the citizens of Illinois deserve transparency and adherence to regulations designed to ensure integrity in the awarding of contracts."

Schillerstrom said AECOM's concerns "will be addressed."

"There's a process for dealing with it," he said. "The process is moving forward."

AECOM's current contract expires at the end of the year. The tollway is required to have an independent engineering firm that conducts inspections, evaluates road conditions and issues an annual report. A consulting engineer is also necessary when the tollway seeks bonds for road work.

"We're going to comply with our trust agreement and with the law," Schillerstrom said.

The runner-up to AECOM was Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., but the board took no action on its proposal either last month.

In hiring engineers, the tollway screens qualifications, then staff experts score the remaining firms' proposals. Finally, a committee with engineering, procurement and diversity staff members and a retired University of Illinois engineer make recommendations to the board, which are typically approved.

AECOM has been rated as "exceeds expectations" in previous reviews, staff members said.

The agency is in the midst of a 15-year, $12 billion road building program.

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