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In Your Words: An open letter on Thomas Street

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Dear Editor:

I ask that the Council not move forward with this design without re-evaluating that the goals of the project are aligned to currently available information, that the design is traceable to those goals, and that the negative impact to the neighborhood and tax base is an acceptable trade-off for the City.
I do not see how the benefits of this design justify the cost and hardship based on the information provided. I don’t see evidence that the design addresses the goals of the project. At this time the resurfacing and maintenance of the water/sewer, etc. with the current footprint is a better option.
After attending the informational meeting last week, and reviewing some subsequent information distributed through the media, I have some specific areas of concern with the current design.
  • Eminent domain is a massive power of government and should not be taken lightly. If the traffic estimates are reduced so drastically (40+% as mentioned in the meeting) is there still a compelling enough justification for the destruction of these homes and businesses? From the meeting it was said there was no cost/benefit analysis or success criteria defined.
    • What is the City’s mitigation plan for the loss of the affordable and low income housing? Not at the individual level but the actual loss of these units to the City’s inventory. As was seen during the Annabelle Apartments debate, there are fewer and fewer options available and we have poverty rate higher than the national average.
    • As of the meeting, no evaluation of the impact of first responders to the neighborhood was provided. I have not seen any further information on this.
  • The primary goals of the project now have been stated to be a swifter flow of traffic through the neighborhood and improving safety. This plan at face value seems to include elements that are counter to that goal, (for example the bike lane). As was stated by Staff/AECOM in the informational meeting, no mapping of traffic accidents or predictive assessment of the design changes to safety were included in the contract for this project. How can we possibly sign off on a design that has not been assessed against the goals of the project?
  • In addition to the lack of a safety assessment, as of the meeting there was no comparison of the estimated increase in the cost/maintenance required for the median design to potential alternatives (such as the shared turn lane option).
  • And finally, why is the City of Wausau solely funding a project where now the primary goal is to route people through the neighborhood and into Rib Mountain businesses?
In addition, I do have major concerns with the processes behind this project, at least at what is visible to me as a full-time employed citizen who cannot devote many hours to attending Council meetings myself and researching more than is disseminated through the local media.
#1 The fact that our contracts apparently do not include independent assessments, success criteria, and requirements mapping to solution/design is alarming and contributing to a huge lack of oversight. It now makes sense why we are not meeting goals; we apparently don’t have tracking to the goals as part of the planning process.
#2 There have been statements made by Council and Staff purporting there has been an imposed limit of discussion to binary choices all along. First that, there was only a choice of four-lane vs two-lane, and now the choice is the current two-lane — or nothing. Who has limited these choices, and what factors were used to exclude other possible options? I have been getting different answers depending on who I am talking to. This is a lack of transparency that continues to concern me.
#3 When new information has come to light, there also has not been transparency on how the new information has been communicated to the Council and assimilated into the planning, if at all. If the plan has not been reevaluated and re-scoped based on the DOT’s determination of the bridge’s status in 2015, the updated traffic estimates, new federal/state regulations, and lessons learned from the first phase we are doing the community a great disservice. There is no shame in changing course when the conditions around you change. We find out in drips that individual Council members “were not aware” of something, and then Staff says that the Council was notified. Someone needs to address this and find out the truth.
#4 Primary stakeholders, especially long-time established local businesses, were not included in the requirements gathering phases for the design. During the meeting it was said that now was the time for them to come to the City with their concerns. Then on the news that very night it was said that the “footprint of the road is pretty well set”. These are things that continue to erode the trust in City leadership.
Mr. Peckham, as my alderperson, in addition to asking that you do not move forward with this design at this time I would also ask that you use your position to address these concerns about oversight with the Council going forward with other projects as well. I was particularly shocked that the answer from AECOM about the lack of a predictive safety analysis was not that they didn’t feel it was necessary, but that it was “not in the contract.” This seemed to be implying that the City had not done their due diligence when contracting for services.
I ultimately want our projects to be successful, which is difficult if we are not being thorough and holding our contractors to account.
Thank you for your time and attention,
Catherine L. Kronenwetter, Wausau


Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes letters to the editor about issues affecting residents in the Wausau area. Submit letters to editor@wausaupilotandreview.com or by mail to P.O. Box 532, Wausau, Wis., 54402-0532. Please include your email and phone number for verification purposes only. Anonymous letters are not published.

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