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Wouldn't Betty Loren-Maltese Memorial Tollway be more apt?
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/10/2007 12:33 AM | Updated: 9/10/2007 11:51 AM

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You wouldn't name the Brookfield Zoo after Michael Vick, the official canine exterminator of the NFL.

O'Hare International Airport isn't going to be renamed for the mayor of Bensenville, who leads the anti-airport expansion campaign.

And the new Planned Parenthood headquarters in Aurora is certainly not going to be named for the pope.

So why in the world would the Northwest Tollway be renamed in honor of Jane Addams? Everything she stood for was against all that the tollway system is.

The remarkable turn-of-the-last-century Chicago woman was a reformer. The Illinois tollway system ain't ready for reform, as notorious Chicago Alderman Mathias "Paddy" Bauler once said about Chicago.

Ms. Addams, a Nobel Peace Prize winner best known for founding Chicago's Hull House that helped thousands of immigrants deal with the harsh realities of living in America, was at her progressive core a believer in what was know the "Efficiency Movement."

Disciples of that philosophy saw government as wasteful and inefficient and advocated a distrust of government agencies and officials.

If Jane Addams was still alive, the day that signs are erected proclaiming it the "Jane Addams Memorial Tollway," she would attend the ceremony with a sign of her own. It would be a protest sign; one that would read: "Mr. Governor: tear down this tollway!"

She died in 1935, decades before the Illinois tollway system was even created. In 1953, the state law that created the tollway authority stated that "When all bonds … have been paid . . . toll highways shall become a part of the system of the State highways of the State of Illinois, and be maintained and operated free of tolls."

Ms. Addams would have expected the government to keep that promise, which it hasn't. Instead of making freeways out of the tollways once all construction bonds were paid off in 1984, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has evolved into a largely unregulated, self-perpetuating arm of the governor's office.

Now, with a couple thousand employees, an annual budget headed toward a half-billion dollars and hundreds of millions in new bonds, the tollway is never going away.

And it is a cesspit of the very kind of corruption that Jane Addams crusaded against. Consider what has happened just since 1990:

• An executive director was convicted of fraud in a tollway land sale scheme.

• A secret pension plan for top tollway employees was shut down after the state auditor general determined it was an inexcusable perk.

• Hundreds of millions of dollars in no bid tollway contracts have been given to politically connected companies. According to a Daily Herald report, more than 80 percent of construction and engineering firms with tollway contracts have donated to the campaign of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

• The toll authority has made no-bid deals with firms linked to: Blagojevich's two top fundraisers, Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko, according to media reports. Last fall Rezko was indicted for business fraud and influence peddling in a separate shake-down scheme involving the governor's administration.

Rezko has also been connected to fundraising efforts for Sen. Barack Obama and a personal land deal with the Illinois democrat who is running for president.

• The toll authority and several of its leading officials are currently the targets of corruption investigations by DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Addams, whose name will adorn a 79-mile stretch of the I-90 between Chicago and Rockford, battled against the very things that the tollway is known for. Jane Addams took on corrupt Chicago aldermen; she complained so much about lousy garbage pickup in her ward that the mayor made her a trash inspector…and she fixed the problems.

Addams was a vigorous champion of women's rights. It would not be lost on her that there is only one woman on the 11-member toll Authority board that voted last Friday to name the road after her.

Considering the tollway's sordid history, there are women worthy of having a stretch named after them. Why not the Betty Loren-Maltese Memorial Tollway, honoring the fallen former mayor of Cicero?

Following the Jane Addams Tollway, the last big chunk of the toll road to be named for someone is the Tri-State (I-294.) That would be the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to one of Illinois' best-known public officials, who really doesn't have anything big named after him and could use a boost right now.

The Tri-State should be renamed the "George Ryan Tollway."

I know that Mr. Ryan once devised a plan to close down the tollway system. "By 2021, the toll roads will be safer; they will be less congested and they will be free," Ryan said when he was still the honorable governor.

But who believed him?