Illinois Tollways' overtime needs to be over with

After increasing tolls by more than 75%, agency must find a way to spend more responsibly

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Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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My Dad now lives in Kentucky and drives a school bus. Semi-retirement life could not get any easier. However, whenever he comes back home to Chicago I feel like I am the one giving him a ride back to a place called reality.

 

The latest spin around the block of hard knocks came this past Christmas, when my Dad announced how appalled he was that the Illinois Tollway was increasing its rates. He simply could not wrap his brain around it--and immediately thought something crooked was behind the move. I tried to get him to a happy place by explaining that the agency had a massive road reconstruction plan in the works, but his raised eyebrow did not rest during the entire conversation.

 

This past Saturday, the Chicago Tribune came out with an investigative report that revealed about 75% of Illinois Tollway employees earned overtime in 2011, and of that chunk 3.3% made more than $10,000. My first response was rather tame. Perhaps my morning mind just was not ready to put up much of a fight. I thought, hey, the Illinois Tollway does a pretty good job maintaining its system, and they are on the verge of executing an impressive strategy that is expected to get routes ready for the future needs of the region.

 

Then I drove myself back to that place called reality, and my blood began to boil. According to the Tribune, four of the 10 employess which received the most in overtime pay were money truck drivers. I'm not sure how the Tollway uses its money truck drivers, but I have a feeling their primary responsibility is to drive a truck around and collect money at various toll booths. Since the Tollway has been collecting money for decades, one would think they had it down to a science. For example, at the X Oasis money needs to be gathered on Tuesdays. I do not believe there were instances in 2011 when traffic on the Tollway increased 100% on a particular day, forcing a money truck driver out of bed at 2 a.m. to go make a collection on overtime pay. By the way, the top OT earner took in an additional $39,000 as the agency's ethics officer. There is a joke in there somewhere, but my morning mind is in full swing.

 

Since the recession work forces everywhere have shrunk, and the amount of time dedicated to the job has increased. However, somebody at the Illinois Tollway needs to step up and address this situation immediately. You cannot raise your rates more than 75% and continue to operate on a bloated budget. Overtime pay needs to be significantly reduced or eliminated all together. The toll increase should go into the pavement--not somebody's pocket. If the money is indeed going back into the system, then imagine all the additional funds the Tollway could dedicate to infrastructure upgrades if it was not paying four money truck drivers almost $90,000 a year in OT? The Tollway needs to be accountable--this is when life gets difficult.

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