How feds say governor worked the tollway
On Oct. 15, Gov. Rod Blagojevich explained to applause that new carpool or "green" lanes on the Illinois tollway would "reduce congestion, reduce pollution and create jobs."
But federal prosecutors allege it was his own job Blagojevich was interested in promoting, according to sweeping charges issued Tuesday. On Oct. 6, a week before the Green Lanes news conference, Blagojevich said a highway contractor would be asked for $500,000 in campaign contributions and if the individual ponied up, he would increase the $1.8 billion amount already committed to the project, authorities allege.
"I could have made a larger announcement but wanted to see how they perform by the end of the year. If they don't perform, (expletive) them," Blagojevich is quoted as saying in a criminal complaint.
The unnamed contractor is an executive with a company that's a large concrete supplier in Illinois, who is active in the American Concrete Pavement Association. In a recorded conversation with the contractor Oct. 22, Blagojevich said he was "excited" about the tollway and talked about the push to pass a state capital bill. He asked the contractor to fundraise for him, spoke of changes in fundraising policies starting Jan. 1 and said, "Call me if you need anything."
Federal prosecutors contend the governor's excitement was over the $1.8 billion project and how it could mutually benefit the contractor, ACPA and himself.
The $1.8 billion is for installing carpool lanes, building an interchange at I-57 and the Tri-State Tollway, improving the I-290/Route 53 interchange with the Jane Addams Tollway and unspecified interchange upgrades on the tollway system.
Government experts said the revelations will sour public sentiment toward the capital bill and Green Lanes initiatives.
"I think No. 1 it raises the obvious question of - what was the real intent of the Green Lanes initiative?" asked Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center. "Was it to get traffic moving or create campaign contributions?"
But tollway officials said the idea for the Green Lanes originated with the agency and stressed although the authority reports to the governor it is independent.
"We have a public bidding process and contracts are bid competitively," spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis said, adding that variations of carpooling lanes are growing in popularity across the country. The agency has had a number of success stories. including the completion of the I-355 extension and its congestion relief program, McGinnis said.
Gerry Krozel, chairman of the Illinois division of the American Concrete Pavement Association and a vice president with concrete producer Prairie Material Sales Inc. said the mention of the organization in federal documents came as a big surprise.
"We're a very, very good association," Krozel said, adding he has talked to Blagojevich but it involved how growth in the concrete industry can create jobs.