CHICAGO — When it comes to figuring out how taxpayer dollars are spent on big state road projects, it’s wise to be prepared for a runaround. Take the massive reconstruction of the Dan Ryan Expy., which ended in 2007.
The Better Government Association, partnering with the Chicago Sun-Times, asked the Illinois Department of Transportation to provide a list of contractors and subcontractors who worked on the project, which wrapped up on time but at a total cost of $975 million — about $375 million over budget.
Here was IDOT’s initial response: “The department is not in possession of a list of contractors and subcontractors used in the Dan Ryan Expressway projects and is under no obligation to create or prepare a new record (in this case, a list) pursuant to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.”
In other words: no go.
After some back and forth and a second request, the BGA was able to get a list of contractors.
But when the watchdog group asked to review each contract to look for information about subcontractors and other details, the state agency’s lawyers decreed the request was “overly broad and burdensome,” as some individual contracts “may have many boxes to them.”
Transportation officials did allow the BGA and the Sun-Times to review Dan Ryan records for one company — Municipal Sewer Services, the general contractor for two Dan Ryan contracts. Those files were deemed manageable. Municipal once numbered Mayor Daley’s son, Patrick Daley, and mayoral nephew Robert Vanecko among its owners.
Municipal bid on the two contracts at a time Patrick Daley and Vanecko were still involved with the company, though IDOT awarded Municipal the deals after the pair had left. The state paid the company $290,049 for the Dan Ryan work, records show.
In all, the records show IDOT hired 31 companies under 95 separate construction contracts for the expressway work. Forty-two percent of those businesses contributed to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund, led by Walsh Construction, the lead contractor on the project (see chart).
And a list of subcontractors? The state doesn’t track payments that its vendors make to every subcontractor, which makes it difficult to know who’s being hired as subcontractors and what they’re paid. That state only tracks payments to subcontractors that are owned by minorities or women.
Rohar Trucking — owned by former Chicago Bear Roland Harper — was among the top minority-owned subcontractors on the Ryan project. Rohar got paid more than $22 million, but the company is now out of business. Harper has admitted that Rohar was a bogus minority-owned company. He is awaiting sentencing.
Among the other minority or women subcontractors on the Ryan project: 11 trucking companies that were part of Mayor Daley’s scandal-plagued Hired Truck Program. Altogether, those 11 companies got paid $11.4 million from the Ryan project.
In 2006, Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) introduced legislation to require that subcontractors’ names on state projects be put on the Internet. That bill hung around for a while, but last year it got stalled by then-Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago).
Its death came around the same time the Sun-Times disclosed that a technology firm owned by Jones’ stepson, John Sterling, was set to be paid as much as $700,000 as a subcontractor to two companies hired by Blagojevich’s budget office.
Radogno has introduced her bill again this year.