Illinois governor’s $1.8 billion tollway project comes into question as he faces federal corruption charges

|  December 17, 2008 |

In an effort to reduce congestion, cut down on emissions and invest in Illinois jobs, Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich unveiled a new Illinois Tollway Improvement Plan in mid-October, “Tomorrow’s Transportation Today,” which would include the introduction of Green Lanes and interchange construction.

The program, intended to build on the tollway’s current Congestion-Relief Program as a second phase is a $1.8 billion project designed to continue congestion-relief efforts, improve the environment, and enhance mobility across Northern Illinois, according to the Office of the Governor.

However, the Chicago Tribune reports that just days before Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) announced the tollway construction program on Oct. 16, he privately tipped a fundraiser to the plan and said he expected a major highway contractor to raise $500,000 for his campaign fund in exchange for state money for the tollway project, according to an FBI recording. “If they don’t perform, [expletive] ‘em,” Blagojevich said, according to the complaint, the newspaper reports.

Now his plans for the Illinois Tollway are being questioned as the governor faces federal corruption charges. Gov. Blagojevich was arrested in the pre-dawn hours outside his Chicago home on federal charges that he tried to sell his office in “pay-to-play” politics, including an attempt to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama.

The governor’s chief of staff, John Harris, was also arrested and both are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and solicitation to commit bribery With Blagojevich under scrutiny, it could stall his projects, including his new transportation plan.

Despite his low-approval rating, the governor had made some transportation advance across the state, including his implementation of Open Road Tolling to alleviate congestion. “Through projects like Open Road Tolling, our Illinois Tollway has consistently delivered on our promise of real congestion relief,” Blagojevich said when the new Tollway Improvement Plant was announced. “Now is the time for us to again focus on infrastructure that expands our economy and supports families.”

For a downloadable PDF copy of the “Tomorrow’s Transportation Today” project plans, to go to www.illinoistollway.com/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/TW_CONTENT_REPOSITORY/TW_CR_TRAFFIC_CONST/GOV_TOLLWAY_CAPITAL_PROGRAM-20081015.PDF.

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