CHICAGO — In a bid for more federal dollars, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is changing the name of the Highway Department and broadening its scope to include more transportation planning.
The agency will be retitled the Department of Transportation and Highways. Increased focus on planning is seen as a way to win funds from the Federal Transit Administration and other federal agencies.
Until now, the Highway Department was primarily charged with maintaining the 1,469 lane-miles of roads, 134 bridges and 351 traffic signals, many of them in unincorporated areas. Over the last two years, under Preckwinkle's administration, it won more than $24 million in federal grants to fulfill those tasks.
But Preckwinkle said much more federal money would be available if the department had a broader scope, for instance smoothing transportation connections between the county roads and the Regional Transportation Authority's agencies: the CTA, Metra and Pace.
“With a broader, more strategic focus, the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways will be able to have a meaningful impact in shaping how our transportation systems impact regional economies and promote growth,” Preckwinkle said. “By taking advantage of federal funding opportunities, we will be able to more effectively utilize existing resources. This is another example of the kind of long-term financial planning contained in our 2013 budget.”
Superintendent John Yonan will remain head of the department, which will formally change its name Dec. 1, when the county's new fiscal year starts.
Preckwinkle will release her 2013 budget proposal at a special meeting of the County Board's Finance Committee Thursday.