What do Rauner tollway appointments mean for Route 53 extension?
Gov. Bruce Rauner's choices for Illinois tollway directors give the suburbs sway on the board when the agency is just months away from a critical decision on extending Route 53 into Lake County.
Rauner's picks announced Friday include former DuPage County Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, Lake County Board Member Nick Sauer and banker Joseph Gomez of Northfield.
Rauner reappointed Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez.
Under Gov. Pat Quinn, there was no representation from north suburban Cook County on the board, which is expected to decide this year whether to undertake the extension of Route 53, which faces a more than $2 billion shortfall.
Noting his town is surrounded by toll roads, Johnson, an insurance executive, commented that "it will be nice to have a mayor from this area" on the board.
Johnson already serves on the Governor's Advisory Council on the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390). There were conflicts initially and a lack of money but "we stuck together and look what happened," he said, referring to construction of Route 390 east to O'Hare and a western bypass around the airport. "It's going to be phenomenal for the region."
For that reason, Johnson's not bothered by the challenges posed by the Route 53 funding gap. "I think we'll find a way to make it happen," he said.
Sauer, a partner with Scarsdale Marketing/Sauer Kitchen Solutions, thinks his experience as vice chairman of the county's public works and transportation committee dovetails with the tollway position.
He called himself "humbled" by the appointment. As for the Route 53 project, "it's important to Lake County, I'll say that," Sauer said.
Schillerstrom, an attorney and former Republican candidate for governor, was a strong proponent of the Elgin-O'Hare extension and advocated for a roadway entrance into O'Hare's west side linked to a western airline terminal.
Gomez is senior vice president of Chicago-based Byline Bank, formerly North Community Bank. He also worked in the state's Bureau of Banking, the Illinois Development Finance Authority, and consulted for the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Another issue facing directors will be the future of the current administration and Executive Director Kristi Lafleur. Just as Rauner put his own representatives on the board, it's assumed he will want his own stamp on executive leadership.
Johnson gave the agency high marks, noting he saw tollway workers out on the job on Christmas Eve. "I have a good working relationship with Kristi (Lafleur)," he said. "But I understand a new governor has new ideas."
Lafleur, Quinn's former deputy chief for economic development and recovery, was hired by the board in spring 2010. Directors who weren't reappointed include Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, banker Mark Peterson of Lincolnshire, DuPage County Forest Preserve Commissioner Jeffrey Redick and Shorewood businessman Terrence D'Arcy. Rauner's wishes were already felt at the tollway April 23 when directors broke with tradition, ending a 21-year-old agreement that required contractors to hire union workers. Rauner is trying to reduce organized labor's influence in the state. Weisner and D'Arcy both voted against the change. One of the current administration's most significant moves is its $12 billion, 15-year building program funded by a 2012 toll increase. There are nine toll board members and two ex officio members, the governor and IDOT secretary.