CHICAGO - The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority board approved a list of six financial advisory firms to work with on its debt issues and other financing initiatives as the agency moves to wrap up borrowing for its five-year-old, $6.2 billion capital program and launch its new $1.8 billion follow-up.

The firms recommended by a selection committee and approved by the tollway board following a request for proposals process conducted last year are AC Advisory Inc., Columbia Capital Management LLC, First Southwest Co., Mesirow Financial Inc., Public Financial Management Inc., and Scott Balice Strategies.

The authority has a long-standing relationship with Scott Balice's Lois Scott and Mesirow's Lawrence Morris, both of whom have worked on the agency's financings since its adoption of the $6.3 billion congestion relief program in 2004 that returned the authority to the ranks of major borrowers.

"The tollway is contracting with a greater number of firms as volatility in the financial markets has increased the number of financial advisory assignments the tollway anticipates in 2009 and 2010," said tollway finance chief Mike Colsch. "This selection includes a diverse group of firms that ensures broad access to ideas useful in addressing new and outstanding issues."

The tollway will pick from the qualified list of firms on an as-needed basis for a term that runs through 2010.

The agency has board authority this year to sell up to $800 million of senior- or junior-lien bonds and to refund up to another $1 billion of variable-rate revenue bonds. Colsch expects to split the new money into two issues that would sell in the spring and fall, with the refundings being undertaken as needed depending on market conditions.

The new-money issues this year will wrap up $3.5 billion worth of borrowing to support the $6.3 billion capital program that includes the rebuilding and expansion of toll roads and renovation of toll plazas to accommodate electronic tolling and relieve congestion.

The tollway's $3.4 billion of senior-lien debt is rated AA-minus by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's and Aa3 by Moody's Investors Service.

The tollway late last year approved a $1.8 billion follow-up program to finance with junior-lien bond debt the establishment of car pool and bus lanes and to build two new interstate interchanges. That program was referenced in a 76-page affidavit released by federal authorities when they arrested then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in December on federal corruption charges. He was removed from office by the Illinois General Assembly last week.

In a series of pay-to-play allegations outlined in the complaint, the former governor is accused of seeking $50,000 in campaign contributions from a concrete business with the promise that it could benefit from the authority's new capital program. Truckers who will pay higher tolls to fund the plan have questioned the agency's motives and the speed with which it approved the plan, which was unveiled in September.

Tollway board chairman John Mitola has asked the agency's inspector general to review the planning process in hopes of quelling concerns that the former governor pushed the plan through in order to give him leverage in raising campaign funds.

The authority disclosed last week that it has received a federal subpoena requesting records related to tollway contracts and dealings with four firms that have ties to Blagojevich: Knight Infrastructure, MBB Construction, McDonough and Associates, and Teng and Associates.

The board continues to search for a new chairman following the departure late last year of Jeffrey S. Dailey.

New Gov. Pat Quinn also will have a hand in shaping the authority board, as a handful of members have terms that expire this year.

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