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Cook County to tap CTA’s Internet connection

Thursday, April 12, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Late last year, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle proposed slashing a $2 million subsidy the county sends to the Chicago Transit Authority annually.

As abruptly as she announced the plan — aimed at shoring up costs at the cash-strapped county — Preckwinkle backed off with little explanation.

Thursday morning, she and CTA President Forrest Claypool shed some light on a new deal between the county and CTA: the county will be allowed to share the transit agency’s fiber optic cable to expand Internet access at Cook County Hospital on the West Side.

The cable runs along the Pink Line — close to the West Side facility — allowing the hospital to upgrade a range of technology, including faster more reliable Internet access.

The deal, already approved by the county and transit agency, means the county will not have to pay to set up broadband, but there could be some ongoing maintenance fees, according to Preckwinkle’s office.

The deal also means the county won’t bring up slashing CTA funding in the near future, Preckwinkle said.

Under a provision in state law, the city and county have agreed to pay the transit agency a combined $5 million annually, with the city kicking in $3 million and the county kicking in $2 million. But Preckwinkle had proposed reducing the county’s share to $675,000 as the county worked to shore up a $315 million shortfall in the 2012 budget. Problem was, the reduction in county funding would have triggered a $168 million loss in funding the Regional Transportation Authority sends to the cash-strapped CTA, Claypool said at the time Preckwinkle proposed the deal.

Preckwinkle and Claypool have had a frosty political relationship at least since the 2010 election, when Claypool, a Democrat, decided to run as an independent against county Democratic Party Chair Joe Berrios for the county assessor’s race. Preckwinkle chastised Claypool for not running as a Democrat and backed Berrios, who eventually won the seat.

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