Pritzker wants reforms at tollway, is undecided on Rt. 53 extension

Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker jumped into controversy surrounding the Illinois tollway over potential political patronage Saturday while campaigning in Lake County.

"We've got to make sure we rid the tollway and every agency of government of the corruption that we've seen from the past," the Hyatt hotel heir said after rallying volunteers in Gurnee.

Last week, state senators held a hearing into tollway procurement policies after reports by the Daily Herald on contracts involving firms with political ties to Republicans or connections with tollway executives.

"We've got to make sure we've got rules against nepotism, rules against people handing out contracts to friends without disclosure," Pritzker said. The governor appoints the tollway board.

Tollway officials have denied any misconduct and say they adhere to all state rules concerning procurement. Tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, however, last week announced he was establishing an ad hoc committee to review conflict of interest and procurement policies and "improve transparency."

Pritzker's tour included Highland Park, Gurnee and the Lake County Fair in Grayslake. His rival Republican Bruce Rauner has also been dropping into the suburbs, visiting an Itasca manufacturer Thursday where he took some digs at Pritzker and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan on the same subject.

"They love corruption ... they have their cronies and their patronage and they hire their brother-in-law," Rauner said.

One tollway project that is roiling Lake County is whether to extend Route 53 north to Route 120. The agency is studying the extension which supporters say will reduce traffic gridlock and boost the economy. Opponents say it is too expensive, will cause pollution and destroy established neighborhoods.

Pritzker didn't commit either way. "I haven't followed the debate on both sides of it," he said.

However, "it's important once I get elected to focus on building infrastructure - our roads and bridges are all crumbling across the state," he said. "We should be building-in infrastructure every single year in the budget."

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