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Article posted: 10/17/2012 4:49 PM

Cook County highway department gets bigger planning role

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In an effort to compete for more federal grants, Cook County is restructuring its highway department to focus on regional transportation needs.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the county's new Department of Transportation and Highways Wednesday and said current Highway Department Superintendent John Yonan will lead the new agency.

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The restructuring is meant to help the highway department join forces with other Chicago-area transportation agencies to create links between the roadway system and other transit options, such as buses, bikes and trains, Preckwinkle said in a news release.

"With a broader, more strategic focus, the (new department) will be able to have a meaningful impact in shaping how our transportation systems impact regional economies and promote growth," Preckwinkle said.

In its current incarnation, the county's highway department has been focused on maintaining the county's 1,469 lane miles of roads, 134 bridges and 351 traffic signals.

Preckwinkle said the department will formally change on Dec. 1, the beginning of the county's new fiscal year.

The county plans to add staff with a "background in urban planning," a spokeswoman for Preckwinkle said, but no decisions have been made regarding actual hiring.

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