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An Illinois Tollway oasis is a type of rest area sited along interstate highways that are toll roads in Illinoismarker. These oases are found in the Chicago Metropolitan Areamarker, DeKalbmarker, and Belvideremarker. There are currently seven oases. While rare in the United Statesmarker, this form of development is common in the United Kingdom and the Canadian province of Ontario along the 400 series highways.

Unlike many other US rest stops, these areas are full service, or "commercialized". US federal regulations forbid commercial development at rest areas on toll-free interstates; only toll roads can offer services to the public. The Wendell H. Ford Western Kentucky Parkway in Kentuckymarker and the Connecticut Turnpike have service areas that have been grandfathered because they were built when their associated highways were toll roads. Some rest areas along the New York State Thruway and almost all along the New Jersey Turnpike, Indiana Toll Road, Ohio Turnpike, Florida's Turnpikemarker, Turnpikes of Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania Turnpike are also "commercialized" to at least some extent.

The oases in Illinois have gas stations (Mobil), fast food restaurants (McDonald's, Panda Express, Subway, etc.), and other various shops. Six of the oases are built directly over the interstate highway they service. The oasis in DeKalb is the only exception in that the oasis was constructed along the southern side of Interstate 88, a highway overpass provides access to traffic traveling in the opposing direction. All the oases provide free WiFi access for visitors. The only Tollway that does not have an oasis on it is the Veterans Memorial Tollway, (Interstate 355), which opened decades after the other tollways and oases were built and was designed to serve local traffic.

History

The five original oases were built in conjunction with the original tollway construction in 1959 and featured Standard Oil (Amoco) gas stations and Fred Harvey restaurants. In the mid 1970s, Howard Johnson's took over the restaurants. The Lincoln Oasis was added in 1968., and the DeKalb Oasis opened in 1975.

In 2003 to 2005, an extensive renovation program was completed on these oases. This involved demolishing the old oases structures to the bridge deck and replacing them with new buildings. Where in the previous buildings the view of the highways were blocked by the vendor restaurants, in the new buildings large expanses of glass are used to create a sense of openness, and to give patrons better views of the highway. The steel truss design also has greater height (nearly 30') than the old buildings, which increases visibility for the oases. The architects for the project were Cordogan Clark & Associates. The gas stations were rebuilt with canopes to cover the gas pumps. The oases were redeveloped at no cost or risk to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authoritymarker (ISTHA). The $95 million investment was provided by Wilton Partners of Los Angeles, CAmarker and ExxonMobil in exchange for a 25 year lease. Under the lease, Wilton would pay a percentage of vendor sales with a minimum of $750,000 per year.

The lease agreements between ISTHA, Wilton Partners, and various vendors have come under investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. This investigation, reported on 30 December 2005, will determine if a conflict of interest existed between the lessees and a political fundraiser for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (Antoin Rezko). DuPage Countymarker State's Attorney Joe Birkett had also requested documents pertaining to these leases earlier in 2005. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Subway restaurants in two oases are managed by the nephew of Tony Rezko, the controversial political fundraiser. In response, tollway spokesmen noted that Wilton Partners was selected during the administration of Governor George Ryan and that the lease gives Wilton discretion to select the individual vendors.



Businessmen were quoted in the media that Jay Wilton, the President of Wilton Partners, encouraged them to donate funds to Blagojevich's 2003 campaign. In December 2003, Wilton Partners reportedly gave Rezko's Panda Express franchise a 50% reduction in its rent at the oases. In January 2007, Wilton stopped making required payments to ISTHA for the oases, and by February 2008, when the back rent grew to $1.4 million, Wilton and ISTHA entered into settlement negotiations. However, in July 2008, the Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan rejected a proposed settlement where ISTHA would forego the $1.4 million in back rent in exchange for Wilton dropping a claim of $4.7 million for lost business due to tollway construction. In the spring of 2009, Wilton Partners' lender, iStar Financial, foreclosed on the oases. Subsequently, the court appointed U.S. Equities, a Chicago firm, to manage the oases pending the outcome of the foreclosure. Further, another food vendor operating in all seven oases who donated to Blagojevich has also received press attention for failure to pay sales taxes and state unemployment insurance.

Locations



References

  1. http://www.illinoistollway.com/portal/page?_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&_pageid=133,1495516
  2. Crain's Chicago Business story on Birkett's investigation of Wilton Partners. Accessed 19 March 2007


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