Illinois Tollway contracts used by Governor to raise $s for slush fund
By Peter Samuel
The Illinois Tollway is heavily involved in corruption charges following the dramatic arrest of state Governor Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff by the Feds and their indictment on multiple criminal counts.One incident cited in the indictment is Gov Blagojevich saying he expected an Illinois Tollway contractor to raise $500k for his Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund and that he was willing to commit more state funds to the Tollway contract if the contractor raised more money for his slush fund. The Governor has taken a close interest in the Tollway's activities and has heavily exploited the Tollway in his publicity.
We earlier reported suggestions of corruption in allocation of service plaza contracts on the Tollway. see http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/3810
The 78-page indictment filed by US Attorney Northern District Illinois, Patrick J Fitzgerald charges the Governor and his top aide with "ongoing criminal activity" and reveals a five year long undercover FBI investigation of corruption in Illinois state government.
Blagojevich, 51, is a Democrat and is likely to join his Republican predecessor former Governor George Ryan in a federal jail.
Ryan is serving a 6 year sentence for corruption which focused on truck divers licenses being available in return for political cash. US attorney Fitzgerald pursued the prosecution and conviction of the Republican Governor Ryan as well as the Bush Administration's senior aide Lewis 'Scooter' Libby so it will be difficult for critics to make a case of political bias against the Blagojevich indictment.
The sensational indictment based on telephone taps has Governor Blagojevich discussing substantial money for himself and his wife and a cabinet post or ambassadorship with the Obama administration in return for exercising his gubernatorial powers to appoint the Democratic Party's favored person to Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.
Blagojevich says in a conversation with aides he is "financially hurting," adding later "I want to make money" and mentioning his need for a position that pays $250k to $300k/year.
US attorney Fitzgerald says: "The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering."
The litany of charges, and the centralized way decisions were made by the Governor himself suggest that the Blagojevich administration was a criminal enterprise focussed on extortion and favor trading from its beginning in 2003, and that appointments, contracts, selection of consultants, and virtually all state business were directed toward the personal enrichment and enhanced power of the Governor and his political associates.
The Tollway appears in this account on p33, par 63 of the USDOJ indictment (nearby) where Gov Blogojevich said he was going to make an announcement of a $1.8 billion Tollway "green lanes" project. The Governor said a lobbyist would approach a contractor called Contractor 1 to ask for $500k for Friends of Blagojevich.
Governor: "If they don't perform (pay us) fuck'em..."
Rod Blagojevich told a witness that "I could have a larger announcement (than the $1.8b Green Lanes announcement for the Tollway) but wanted to see how they would perform by the end of the year. If they don't perform fuck 'em."
Contractor 1 works for a firm that is a large supplier of concrete in the state, the indictment says.
Among the charges the Governor demands the firing of journalists critical of his administration by Chicago Tribune management in return for state support for one of their planned asset sales. The Tribune company has since filed for bankruptcy.
Green lanes a bogus proposal - an idea of some pinhead in Governor's office
Governor Blagojevich's $1.8b "Green Lanes" plan announced for the Tollway October 16 was a bogus proposal that made no traffic engineering sense. It came right from some political pinhead in the Governor's office and it would never have withstood a rudimentary feasibility study.
see our earlier report:
Toll express lanes, green or otherwise, only make sense on freeways. They have never been implemented on tollways because if you want to manage traffic by varying price on a tolled facility you apply that differential pricing to all traffic, not to select lanes.
In addition, single lanes as proposed in the Blagojevich "Green Lanes" plan have lower capacity and throughput than regular Tollway lanes because of the ability of a slow driver to block traffic, collecting a convoy behind. Such toll express lanes - as opened recently on FL/I-95 in Miami - generally have two lanes per direction, not one lane as in the Blagojevich Tollway plan.
In addition the scheme as drawn was unsafe lacking proper buffers, entry/exit zones and enforcement,
The Feds would almost certainly have blocked implementation of the plan if it had got to them for sign off.
Executive director resignations
The resignations of able Illinois Tollway executive directors (EDs) Jack Hartman and Brain McPartlin may have been early signs of the Blagojevich corruption disaster, and insiders wanting out because - in the best interpretation - they couldn't stomach what was going on? McPartlin's departure was announced mid-October after 30 months as ED. Hartman left in March 2006 after three years as executive director.
During their tenure huge improvements were made to the Tollway - major widenings and the largest conversion to open road tolling in the world. A downside from these huge accomplishments is a legacy of illwill and difficulty handling violations because of a year when no notices could be issued.