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Stroger vows to kill route marker deal

Friday, February 13, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick and John Hilkevitch

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger said Thursday he wants to cancel a contract to put up road signs featuring an obscure coding understood only by highway department workers, but it remains unclear how much the county can still save taxpayers.

About 1,300 blue signs with gold lettering, and designations that don't correspond to state or U.S. routes, were supposed to be installed under a two-year, $120,000 contract paid for with motor fuel taxes.

After the project was highlighted in a Tribune story Wednesday, two county commissioners sought a legal opinion on whether the markers are required under federal or state laws.

On Thursday, Stroger said the signs help highway workers identify where repairs need to be made but acknowledged the awkwardness of installing them during tight financial times.

"I don't think this is the time for that, and we will move to terminate the contract. I believe they've gone though about half of it now," he said. A spokesman later said only about $20,000 of the contract was spent so far.

Joseph Fratto, Stroger's chief of staff, said most of the county's contracts have cancellation clauses.

"One of the first orders of business first thing in the morning will be to review that contract," said Fratto, who added it's possible the county might have to pay the company a bit more if they've already printed all the signs.

Stroger's comments on the sign flap came while taping the "At Issue" radio program, which airs at 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Sunday on WBBM-AM 780.

Earlier this week, county Highway Supt. Rupert Graham said the route markers were posted to let motorists know they were driving on roads owned and maintained by the county.

Drivers found the signs perplexing. Route markers on east-west routes began with the letter A, B or C, followed by a number. North-south routes started with V or W.

Mike Dinelli, a Skokie resident for more than 50 years, said he came across one of the new markers last week.

"I thought, 'How was I able to survive all these years without that sign?' " said Dinelli, tongue in cheek. "The thought of Cook County government spending $120,000 on these signs is unconscionable."

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