New tollway directors speak out as Quinn stands behind dumping critic

 
 
Updated 10/25/2011 6:47 PM

Gov. Pat Quinn is defending his decision to drop the only Illinois tollway director who voted against a rate increase.

Quinn on Monday replaced half the tollway board, getting rid of both Naperville Mayor George Pradel and Bill Morris of Grayslake, who called a 35 cent to 45 cent increase at toll plazas flawed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Bill Morris did a great job at the tollway and the governor appreciates his hard work," Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said.

She added that Quinn moved Morris to a position with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission "where he was needed and his skills will be a great fit." As a former mayor of Waukegan and liquor commissioner, Morris is a good addition to the commission, Thompson said.

Morris said he was disappointed he wasn't reappointed to the tollway board.

"I feel that while I did accomplish some good things during the past 26 months, there is still a lot to do to make the tollway the kind of open and transparent governmental unit we all desire as well as a governmental agency that is very conservative with the public's dollars," he said. "We made progress but have a way to go. That said, it is the governor's choice and I respect his decision."

In a note to supporters, Morris said "the administrators of the tollway had grown uncomfortable with my questions and likely did not support my reappointment."

He cited his opposition to the toll hike, his push to eliminate free employee transponders for work, and efforts to trim the operating budget.

While Morris is a retired investment banker, appointee Mark Peterson of Lincolnshire, a president at Bridgeview Bank, offers similar financial experience, Thompson said.

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"(Peterson) has a strong background in finance and will be extremely valuable to the tollway as they move forward with issuing bonds," she said. "Gov. Quinn worked to appoint a diverse group with combined assets to help move the tollway forward as they continue to expand."

The five directors Quinn chose will be thrown into a series of significant decisions related to the board's August approval of toll hikes to fund a massive $12 billion construction program. Thursday they'll be required to vote on the 2012 preliminary $973 million budget, a 43 percent jump from the 2011 version.

Appointees include James Sweeney, Jeffrey Redick, Peterson, David Gonzalez and Terrence D'Arcy.

"I think it's a great time for labor to have a seat at the table," said Sweeney, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. "We're moving forward with the biggest road capital program in the history of the tollway. We'll transform our main roadway system into a state-of-the art system."

Sweeney, of Chicago, said he didn't see any potential conflicts of interest in votes on future building projects, adding that his years in the construction industry gave him a unique perspective.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We want to get as much bang for the buck as we can for the tollway users," he said. "I'll push for accelerating the capital program. On average, we're seeing bids come in 35 percent to 45 percent under engineer's estimates and this phenomenon won't be around for long as construction starts to recover from its depression."

Attorney and DuPage County Board member Redick, of Elmhurst, said he couldn't second-guess the tollway board's vote on increasing rates.

Instead, "my goal is to be a good steward of the dollars as we implement this program," said Redick, who is a member of the county's transportation committee and chairs the environmental committee.

One project the tollway is undertaking is the extension of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway east into O'Hare International Airport and a western bypass connecting with I-90 at the north and the Tri-State Tollway at the south.

"The big issue for me will be western access (to O'Hare)," Redick said. "It will be a huge economic boost to the western region, not just in terms of construction dollars but for what it will enable us to do from a business development standpoint."

Peterson, a Lincolnshire resident and son of former Lake County Republican state Sen. William Peterson, also served as executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which managed the financing to build U.S. Cellular Field.

With the state lacking capital dollars, "I think any new roads need to be funded by fee-based programs," Peterson said. "I see it as the most progressive way."

The tollway has also set aside funds to study extending Route 53 into Lake County and established a local panel to make recommendations on the controversial issue.

Peterson said he believed Route 53 "needs to be expanded through Lake County in some form or fashion. This could be one of the most environmentally sensitive roads ever built. I'm willing to look at all the options."

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