Tollway Oases Need Strong Oversight

Article excerpt

This page has been critical of the Illinois Toll Highway Authority in past years as it dealt with what seemed to be a litany of problems and mismanagement. A story in Sunday's Daily Herald by transportation writer Marni Pyke confirmed many of our fears on how the agency was run for much of the last decade.

Pyke obtained e-mails between the tollway and Wilton Partners, which had a 25-year lease to operate and renovate the tollway's oases. What she found was an agency willing to tolerate late payments, maintenance lapses and defensive answers from a politically connected company. This was at a time when the tollway was cracking down on toll violators with an ill-advised program that ended with a backlog of notices resulting in drivers getting fines that doubled or tripled during that backlog.

Wilton, meanwhile, shorted the tollway on rent and other fees, failed to maintain the oases, failed to keep the stores occupied and gave favorable rents to other politically connected vendors.

Wilton eventually defaulted on its loan and is now facing foreclosure proceedings. Lender iStar Financial is expected take over the old lease. And when it does, the tollway board needs to assert more authority in its dealings with the new leaseholder and the company it hires as manager.

We think tollway Chairman Paula Wolff, who was brought in to clean up much of the mess of the past decade, has it right when she told Pyke: "To the extent the past can teach you how to go forward, that is useful. I'm a true believer that the more open and transparent things are, the better. …