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Tollway contractor wants more money despite criticisms
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/1/2009 12:02 AM

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Illinois State Toll Highway Authority directors balked at paying $12 million more to the company that manages much of its electronic tolling system, including the unpopular violation process.

Tollway directors said Thursday they needed details about why Electronic Transaction Consultants deserved the extra cash before its contract expires in 2010.

The company handles most of the tollway's I-PASS program. Its software programs compute transactions at toll plazas and it installs the equipment and infrastructure for reading I-PASS transponders. Electronic Transaction Consultants also are responsible for contacting toll scofflaws and processing violations.

It's those last two duties that have generated significant criticism. A 13-month delay in issuing violation notices occurred in 2006 and 2007 because of miscommunication between ETC and the previous contractor.

As a result, thousands of motorists were hit with hefty late fees that spiraled because of the time lag. And the tollway also acknowledged significant problems arising from misreads of license plates. The skyrocketing fees and misreads license plates were among the system flaws detailed in a Daily Herald investigation published in January 2008.

Because of the snafus, the agency is currently holding a "Spring Cleaning" that gives I-PASS users a partial break on late fees.

The original ETC contract was for $69.5 million from June 2005 to June 2010.

Some of the extra $12.3 million ETC is seeking will go toward the Spring Cleaning program. But the payment will also cover unexpected costs. Tollway staff said the original contract didn't anticipate how much the I-PASS system would be used or the extra work created by ongoing tollway construction and expansion.

"Open Road Tolling has never been done before on this scale," Acting Executive Director Michael King said.

A number of board members called for more information before voting on the payout.

Tollway Director and Deerfield Mayor Steven Harris called for a workshop session to look at the contract "so we can be fully vetted."

Director David Andalcio also called for more time and a report by tollway information technology staff.

Former tollway Executive Director Brian McPartlin told the Daily Herald in May 2008 that the agency was withholding some payments to ETC because of its dissatisfaction with the late violation notices.

Asked how the financial penalties against the company weighed up against the $12 million, King said the tollway had reduced ETC's original demands by $2.4 million because of the violation issues.

The agency is expected to address the payment either at a special meeting or at its regular session in May.

Tollway officials said the $12 million will pay for a mixture of operational costs and capital expenses such as equipment and infrastructure for new interchanges like the Eola Road project in Aurora.