CHICAGO (CN) – A coalition of Illinois contractors and construction groups claims Cook County is illegally diverting money earmarked to fix its roads, bridges and public transit systems to other priorities like law enforcement, courts and jails.
The Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association and other groups say they are advocates for investment in the county’s infrastructure to boost the local economy under the state’s Safe Roads Amendment. Suing Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court, they claim funding is critical to ensure the prosperity and health of the county's 5 million residents.
During a typical workday, commuters take more than 19 million trips on one of the most extensive public transit systems in America. Chicago is a hub for tourism, with tens of millions visiting each year.
The contractor and construction groups, represented by Chicago attorney John Fitzgerald of Tabet DiVito, claim Cook County is the "freight capital of North America" with 925 million tons of freight moving within its borders each year.
According to the coalition's complaint, almost 40 percent of county’s roads need repairs and nearly half of its bridges are crumbling. The public transit system has seen a steep decline and is allegedly worse off than other metro regions in the country with transit agencies needing $19.5 billion to bring their systems back to a state of good repair.
"Cook County's transportation infrastructure is failing, and the county is not prepared to modernize its transportation infrastructure to meet the needs of the future," the 23-page lawsuit states. "Despite these realities, the county continues to underfund transportation initiatives."
According to the construction groups, county officials have diverted revenue in violation of the Illinois Constitution’s Safe Roads Amendment, which was meant to take money from several transportation-related taxes and fees and use them for infrastructure projects.
Instead, the county has placed tens of millions of tax dollars in the Public Safety Fund for the county's criminal justice system, law enforcement, the state's attorney, and department of corrections, according to the complaint.
"The Public Safety Fund is not designed to maintain county roadways and fund highway maintenance," the lawsuit states. “Diversion of transportation-related tax and fee revenue to undifferentiated costs within the Public Safety Fund is prohibited by the Safe Roads Amendment.” The groups want a judge to declare that the alleged diversion of funds is unconstitutional.
Neither their attorney, Fitzgerald, nor the office of Cook County State's Attorney Kimberly Foxx were immediately available for comment Wednesday morning.