Schillerstrom resigns as tollway chairman amid agency churn

A pivotal figure at the Illinois tollway for the last four years has resigned amid scrutiny of the agency and a legislative push to clean house.

Chairman Robert Schillerstrom has submitted his resignation, a tollway spokesman said Monday.

Schillerstrom, former DuPage County chairman, spearheaded a massive expansion of the Central Tri-State Tollway (I-294), a controversial study of extending Route 53 north into Lake County, and the ongoing extension of Route 390 to O'Hare International Airport.

But a series of Daily Herald reports about the tollway board hiring individuals and firms with political or personal connections led to state Senate scrutiny this summer and drew censure from new Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Lawmakers voted Jan. 9 to oust the tollway board, including Schillerstrom. Pritzker has yet to sign the bill but approved of it, saying "these reforms will build transparency and accountability at the Illinois tollway."

Schillerstrom, an attorney who was appointed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, did not return a request to comment.

In a Jan. 18 resignation letter to Pritzker, he wrote: "I am certain every tollway board (member) approached their work with one goal and that was to leave the agency in an improved position. I believe we have done just that. The Illinois tollway is one of the most highly regarded networks of roads in the nation."

The Rev. Corey Brooks, a tollway director, also resigned, officials said.

Illinois governors appoint tollway board directors and by proxy the executive director to reflect their priorities, but directors typically finish their terms even when a new governor comes on board in the middle of them.

Democratic state Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines, who pushed for changes at the agency, said the change in leadership "is an opportunity for the new administration to make the necessary changes and reforms to improve the Illinois Toll Highway Authority Board."

"I want to thank Bob Schillerstrom for his time and commitment to the state. I wish him and his family nothing but the best in their future endeavors," she said.

The Daily Herald reported about the tollway board awarding a $157 million contract to a company that employed Schillerstrom's daughter and the son of the tollway chief engineer, recruiting GOP insiders for high-paying positions, spending thousands of dollars to send staff members to banquets where tollway leaders were speakers, and more.

In his letter, Schillerstrom told Pritzker the agency would improve traffic flow in the region by widening the Tri-State and "reduce travel times by 20 percent. In addition, we are redesigning the interchanges at I-55, I-88 and I-290 to allow more seamless and safer access to the Illinois interstate network."

A Pritzker spokesman said earlier that "it's critical that billions' worth of road-building contracts aren't awarded to political insiders and the tollway needs a fresh start to move forward with rebuilding Illinois."

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