By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — As plans for independent soil testing along the Thomas Street corridor are being finalized, residents opposed to the project say they are convinced the project has more to do with the city’s desire for redevelopment and less to do with road safety.
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. But AECOM representatives in November admitted that those projections have now changed, noting that traffic forecasting is “not a perfect science.” Traffic levels have remained between 15,000 and 17,000 vehicles per day, and are only now projected to grow by a 1/2 percentage point each year.
City officials have also pointed to high crash rates along Thomas Street as a reason for the new design.
But skeptical residents, pointing to a 2014 Thomas Street Corridor Study, say the project is more about a master plan to raze homes for future development than it is about safety.
Skeptical residents point to a now-archived 2014 master corridor study (embedded below) that was created through discussions with three developers.
“If the public has a chance to review the Developer Interview Summary from the Thomas Street Corridor Master Plan, it will become fairly clear that the taking and demolition of Wausau residents’ homes is based on a redevelopment scheme rather than on any legitimate road expansion need,” said Tom Kilian, a Thomas Street resident who is strongly opposed to the project.
The original corridor study includes comments from developers that suggest “dressing up the roadway” with a median and attracting more traffic to Thomas Street.
“When it comes to traffic, it does not have enough — both vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” the report reads. “Seeing more activity on the street would make Thomas Street more salable for developers.”
Among the development suggestions for the area include high end apartments and other mixed use properties. But to reach the $1,000 to $1,100 per month suggested rental rate, the developers cautioned, aesthetic improvements in the neighborhood would be necessary.
Kilian said these reports show the intent of city officials is not safety, but marketability.
“It does help one to understand why inaccurate traffic forecasts and unpersuasive safety arguments had not been a greater concern to some of the council members,” Kilian said. “Sound data and reasonable conclusions must be required for road projects, but not for gentrification efforts and boondoggles.”
All 12 homes lining the north side of Thomas Street from First Avenue and the Wisconsin River, including one low-income apartment complex, would be demolished to make way for the road. The Fast Break Mobil station and Cheers bar are also targeted, according to the plan.
“It is clear that the reconstruction is just the first step in a larger redevelopment effort in the area and that the City plans to acquire all the properties on the north side of Thomas Street as part of the larger redevelopment effort,” said Ted Warpinski, in an email to city officials. Warpinski is an attorney representing a group of neighborhood residents who are opposed to the project.
The group has hired an engineering firm to test the topsoil in the area at at four separate locations for potential toxicity. That testing is set to take place the first week in January, according to city emails.Thomas_Street_Developer_Interview_Summary