Price tag to Chicago taxpayers for O’Hare, Midway maintenance work soars

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THE WATCHDOGS: Two contracts that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration awarded to Rossi Contracts for work at O’Hare and Midway airports have ballooned in cost from $37.5 million to $67.3 million. Seen here is Rossi Contractors’ facility in Northlake. Tim Boyle / Sun-Times

Two contracts the Emanuel administration awarded to a Northlake company for work at O’Hare and Midway airports have ballooned in cost because of add-ons and extensions, records examined by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

The city of Chicago’s deal with Rossi Contractors for pavement, maintenance and other work at the two airports was supposed to cost taxpayers about $37.5 million. But the price tag has shot up by nearly $30 million, to $67.3 million, records show.

Rossi was awarded one of the contracts in 2012 and the second one in 2013, each time as the low-bidder. Since then, though, city officials have extended one of the two contracts five times without seeking competitive bids from other contractors and also added costly “modifications” to both deals, the Sun-Times found.

One of the contracts — for concrete repair and ramp replacement at the airports — initially was for three years with the option of a one-year extension. It was awarded in 2012 after Rossi had put in a bid of $27.6 million — less than all of the six other companies vying for the work. The next-lowest proposal to do the work came in at $39.2 million, city records show. The highest bid was $59.9 million.

To date, Rossi has been paid $49.6 million for that work, as the city extended the deal five times, by a total of two and a half years, and modified the terms eight times to include additional duties.

The other Rossi contract, a five-year deal awarded in 2013, was for airfield maintenance. Rossi’s $9.9 million bid was less than three other firms’ proposals. The next-lowest bid was $13.5 million.

So far, Rossi has been paid about $17.7 million under that contract, after city officials twice added to the work covered by that deal, records show.

Ginger Evans, the top Emanuel aide who runs the city aviation department that operates both airports, declined an interview request. A written statement from her agency says Rossi’s no-bid contract extensions “have been granted . . . to ensure continuity of service for this critical work while we worked to identify how to structure the next bid.”

Evans’ agency says it can be difficult to “forecast” what work will be needed: “The size and scope of work at O’Hare, the continuous changes that have occurred as part of the airfield modernization, unpredictable events that occur on a busy airfield and the critical nature of the work to ensure compliance with [Federal Aviation Administration] safety regulations are all factors that can impact the original estimates.”

The maintenance contract — which in part involves drainage and anti-erosion work — hasn’t been extended because it hasn’t expired. City officials say they’re preparing to put that work back up for competitive proposals to get the best deal for taxpayers.

The concrete contract is to be split “into two solicitations in order to maximize opportunities for potential bidders.”

Altogether, records show Rossi has been paid about $118 million for airport work in the past eight years.

Evans spokeswoman Lauren Huffman points out that, since 2010, the aviation department “has made nearly $1.2 billion in payments at O’Hare alone” to a series of “facilities contractors in order to maintain continuity and efficiency in operations.”

The $118 million paid to Rossi has all come since the Sun-Times reported in 2009 — while Mayor Richard M. Daley was still in office, two years before Mayor Rahm Emanuel was first elected — that the FBI was investigating city contracts awarded to Rossi and other companies with ties to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his campaign fundraiser Chris Kelly, who both ended up being convicted of federal crimes. Rossi executive Ronald Rossi was once a close friend and business partner of Kelly.

Blagojevich remains imprisoned after being convicted of crimes including trying to sell then-President-elect Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat, two other shakedowns for campaign contributions and lying to the FBI.

Others who were convicted in related cases included Kelly, who killed himself in 2009 by downing rat poison at a lumber yard in Country Club Hills before he was supposed to report to prison after pleading guilty to corruption and tax charges.

Neither Rossi nor anyone else at Rossi Contractors was ever accused of any crime, and the investigation is believed to be long over.

Through a representative, Ronald Rossi declined to comment.

The company “continues to be in good standing with the city and is not precluded from bidding or performing on city contracts,” according to the aviation department.

In 2003, Daley tapped Rossi Contractors for the infamous overnight raid in 2003 in which it carved giant “X” marks onto the pavement at Meigs Field to make the downtown lakefront airport unusable, so the mayor could turn it into parkland.

The giant “X” marks bulldozed into the pavement at Meigs Field in 2003 that Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered, closing the airport and allowing it to be turned into parkland. | Brian Jackson / Sun-Times files

The giant “X” marks bulldozed into the pavement at Meigs Field in 2003 that Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered, closing the airport and allowing it to be turned into parkland. | Brian Jackson / Sun-Times files


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