By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — In a Facebook post Wednesday, city officials blasted an Aug. 15 Wausau Pilot and Review story that stated at least three city council members were not aware of changes to federal road design regulations leading up to a crucial vote on the Thomas Street reconstruction project.
“The article seems to imply that city staff did not properly inform the City Council,” the post reads.
Wausau Pilot and Review posted the story after receiving three separate emails from city council members stating they were not aware of the changes, which took effect more than a year ago. Wausau Pilot and Review stands by its story and has retained those emails.
The rule changes mean the city could choose to rebuild the road largely within its current footprint, eliminating the need to purchase millions of dollars in what is now taxable property along the Thomas Street corridor.
Among the council members unaware of the critical rule changes before voting on the issue was David Nutting, who represents much of the Thomas Street corridor proposed for construction. Nutting on Aug. 8 was one of six council members to vote yes to a 30 percent design plan as the first step in the project.
At that meeting, Nutting asked Public Works Director Eric Lindman to directly confirm that as an urban principal arterial roadway, Thomas Street “cannot stay as is.”
Lindman replied: “Right, and we need to meet federal highway guidelines for this road.”
In an interview earlier this month on WXCO that is now posted on the city’s Facebook page, Lindman told the radio host he himself was not aware of the federal changes to the rules, which changed in May 2016. That’s when the Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA, published new rules for “low-speed,” no freeway roads designed for traffic below 50 mph easing design requirements significantly. Rather than imposing 13 criteria for all arterial roadways, the FHWA will now require only the criteria of design speed and design loading structural capacity for roads such as Thomas Street.
In the post, city officials insist they are following proper protocol.
“City staff has always been very clear that FHWA Criteria must be followed and that best engineering design practices should be followed to eliminate or mitigate public safety issues and improve road capacity issues,” the Facebook post reads.
Mayor Rob Mielke has not returned any calls or emails requesting comment on this or any other issue since June.