Tollway directors reject staff recommendation, won't renew engineering firm's contract

  • The Illinois tollway relies on an outside engineering firm to conduct inspections and evaluations of its roads.

    The Illinois tollway relies on an outside engineering firm to conduct inspections and evaluations of its roads. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 10/28/2016 11:12 AM

Breaking with precedent, a majority of tollway directors ignored the advice of top staff and rejected renewing a contract with consulting engineers AECOM Technical Services Thursday.

AECOM has worked for the tollway for more than five decades. The tollway's engineering department had recommended approving a three-year $43 million contract with the Los Angeles-based firm, which also has a base in Chicago.


Directors gave no indication at a board meeting why AECOM was getting the boot.

Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said he could not comment on the decision because "it's still an open procurement" process.

Directors Joseph Gomez of Northbrook and Neli Vasquez-Rowland of Bartlett voted in favor of the contract.

"I respect the opinions of the staff and the opinions of the professionals who run the tollway," Gomez said. "I felt it was my duty to support them."

Asked if AECOM was likely to sue the tollway, Gomez said "possibly."

The selection process involves an initial screening of applicants' qualifications. Next, engineers score the remaining firms' proposals. Finally, a committee with engineering, procurement and diversity staff members and a retired University of Illinois engineer make recommendations to the board.

Typically, such recommendations are approved.

AECOM has been rated as "exceeds expectations" in previous reviews, Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs said.

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The tollway is required to have an independent engineering firm that conducts inspections, evaluates road conditions and issues an annual report. AECOM's current contract runs out at the end of the year and it's not clear how the tollway will proceed.

The runner-up was Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. but the board took no action on its proposal.

The agency is in the midst of a 15-year, $12 billion road building program.

Also on Thursday the tollway released its preliminary 2017 budget. The $336 million operations and maintenance budget represents an increase of 4.4 percent from $323 million this year.

The capital budget is slimmer in 2017. The agency expects to finish the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) widening this year but will continue extending the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390) east to the airport. The proposed capital budget for 2017 is $961 million compared to $1.25 billion in 2016.

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