Demand on Cook County Highway Department Grows as Population Grows

As more and more people move to Cook County and the North Shore, the demand for services offered by local government and other organizations continues to increase.

Among the most notable examples is the demand for increased services on the Cook County Department of Highways.

There are hundreds of seasonal homes, owner-occupied homes, and cottages throughout Cook County where homeowners do not receive basic road maintenance from the county highway department. These include services such as snow removal, road grading and culvert maintenance. Many roads leading to private property in Cook County are technically owned by the U.S. Forest Service or the state, highway engineer Robbie Hass said in a Sept. 23 interview. It is therefore not up to the roads department to provide services on these roads. However, this does not prevent local residents from asking. Hass said the local highway department gets many calls each year from homeowners asking for help maintaining public roads that aren’t run by the county. The county highway department does not have the staff or the funds to provide those services, Hass said.

Cook County’s population increased by nearly 8% at the 2020 census. The county’s population is 5,600 at the 2020 count. As people move to remote areas of the rural county, demand road services is likely to increase, Hass acknowledged. One option, though it tends to be a logistical and administrative nightmare for the county, is to move into the Subordinate Government Service District (SGSD). This is essentially where the county serves as a facilitator between landowners on a non-county road and a private contractor to provide services on the roadway. An SGSD results in increased property taxes for any area of ​​the county where it is created. Establishing an SGSD can be controversial in some cases, including areas in the eastern county where landowners are not interested in having the services, while some of their neighbors would be.

The reality of life in Cook County – especially in a remote pocket of the community where the highway department is not required to clear snow or maintain the road – is that the local government has no obligation to to satisfy the desires of an owner with regard to the maintenance of the roads. In March, the Cook County Board of Commissioners updated the local zoning ordinance. It reads: “The Cook County Board of Commissioners finds that, as of the date of enactment of this ordinance, there are sufficient areas of Cook County served by public roads with public school buses nearby and other services, to enable such residential and commercial development as is likely to be required for the foreseeable future, and further, that additional public roads with nearby public school buses and other services would unreasonably burden County ratepayers Council further finds that there are persons wishing to establish residential and commercial uses on lands not within said areas already served by public roads, school bus service and other utilities.In the past, the council has zoned these non-serviced areas so that residential and commercial development cannot not happen, due to overspending by taxpayers to further expand public services. However, the council is willing to allow such development in these unserved areas if there are guarantees that people developing in these areas will not need to extend already overstretched utilities at the sole discretion of the council. .

To hear the full interview with Hass from September 23, listen to the audio below. Other topics discussed during the live interview included an update on the Pike Lake Road construction project. The project is expected to be completed by Nov. 1, Hass said.