By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — City officials on Tuesday made public the final 30 percent design plan for the second phase of reconstruction on Thomas Street, one day before a public hearing that will discuss the project.
The latest design calls for the city to acquire and demolish all 12 homes that line the north side of Thomas Street from First Avenue to the Wisconsin River, including a low-income apartment complex. In addition, the city would acquire four more properties, including Cheers tavern and the Fast Break Mobil, if the design is approved.
The Thomas Street project has been hotly debated for more than 15 years, with talks first beginning in 2002. In 2006, city leaders approved a five-lane conceptual plan for the road, after they were advised that traffic along Thomas Street was projected to increase dramatically to 30,000 vehicles per day by 2026. Traffic safety and increased road capacity remain among the primary reasons noted by Public Works Director Eric Lindman for the reconstruction this week.
But critics point out that since the initial corridor study, those annual growth projections haven’t materialized, and in fact some traffic rates have declined. Many Thomas Street neighborhood residents have also been sharply critical of the plan, as questions continue to swirl about the environmental safety of the neighborhood and whether disturbing potentially contaminated ground could endanger the community.
A number of those residents have spoken publicly and repeatedly on social media about their frustrations, and the sense that their concerns are not being heard by public officials.
Lou Larson, who owns a home targeted for city acquisition, wrote:
“I’ve had the mayor down by my property on Thomas where Phase 2 is to be next. [The project] could easily be achieved by taking five feet off each side of the road, saving the neighborhood, keeping city’s tax base. You want a bike path? Build one along the river in the old abandoned railroad tracks that runs behind the homes.”
Still, many other Wausau residents have praised the improvements in Phase I, particularly the addition of bike lanes to the roadway.
Phase I of the Thomas Street project, from 17th Avenue to Fourth Avenue, was constructed earlier this year and includes a two-lane roadway with a raised median and bicycle lanes. Underground sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water main were also replaced.
The proposed second phase is similar to the first phase, with a raised median, dedicated turn lanes and bicycle accommodations. Underground utilities would also be replaced.
The Thomas Street project was added in 2013 to Tax Increment District 6, a TID created in 2005 to encourage development of corporate offices, clinics, and retail centers in the area.
The public information meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. tonight, Nov. 29, in the council chambers at Wausau City Hall. A presentation will be held at 6 p.m. Comment forms will be available at the meeting or can be found online and sent to city officials before Dec. 5. Comment forms can also be emailed to Eric.Lindman@ci.wausau.wi.us .