Illinois tollway directors reversed course Thursday by not hiring a former contractor to evaluate past and present construction programs after questions surfaced about the firm's objectivity.
Finance committee members last week approved a $1 million contract with New Jersey-based Hill International to conduct an "independent" appraisal of its road projects with the intent of learning from past mistakes and saving money in the future.
The Daily Herald reported that the tollway hired Hill for $1.5 million in 2005 to monitor engineers and contractors working on the $5.8 billion Congestion Relief program to assess how effectively it was being implemented.
When asked if that meant the firm faced a conflict of interest if it was scrutinizing its own handiwork, tollway leaders said no, explaining that no Hill staff who participated in the Congestion Relief work would engage in the new analysis.
Thursday, directors voted to pull the Hill contract from the agenda with no discussion after a nearly two-hour executive session.
"The board wanted to feel confident in terms of public understanding and perception that we be able to clearly state that the vendor would be independent beyond a reasonable doubt and I'm not sure we felt ultimately that we achieved that 100 percent," Director and Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said after the board meeting.
"It's always important for anything we do to be held to the highest standard as far as independence and integrity of the process and that was the case for this contract," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said. "While we think that Hill could have potentially done a decent job at the work it's important at the end of the day for us to not have any appearance of a conflict of interest."
The tollway will re-advertise the contract.
"People wanted to make sure we had clearly defined what it meant to be an independent entity," Chair Paula Wolff said. "There was some ambiguity about how we defined independence, that's really the concern."
The board discussed the issue behind closed doors because of potential legal liabilities. Hill International did not respond to a request for comment.
The analysis of past construction projects and current policies is needed as the tollway embarks on a 15-year, $12 billion Move Illinois road building project, officials said.