Unnecessary Plan to Decimate Thomas Street Neighborhood
“Even doubling state projections, they [GRAEF] said traffic would grow by just 1% per year, so there is no justification for more than two lanes.” - City Pages, Thomas street not that busy, city told, February 27-March 6, 2014
The Wausau City Council will be meeting on July 8, 2014 at 7:00 PM, and Thomas Street is once again on the agenda. On June 12, 2014 the Capital Improvements and Street Maintenance Committee (CISM) voted to move ahead with widening the road. CISM voted to create a four-lane stretch of road into a two-lane bridge and will be recommending that the City Council vote to acquire about 50 properties along the Street, many of them homes of long time residents. The only apparent need for the acquisition of these properties is the eventual expansion of Thomas Street to four lanes from 17th Avenue to the Thomas Street Bridge.
It is difficult to justify the CISM Committee’s decision from both fiscal and community perspectives:
- Both GRAEF Consulting, the firm hired by the city to develop the plans for Thomas Street, and the State have made it clear than the traffic on the street does not, and likely never will, justify four lanes.
- To justify the expansion it is intended that much of the proposed development will be part of a TIF district even though Wausau already has a greater percentage of its property dedicated to TIFs than is considered fiscally prudent for sound city management
- The type of commercial development being considered for Thomas Street is simply not needed in Wausau or the surrounding communities. There is already an excess of empty commercial space, the Wausau Center Mall is struggling, and the jobs provided by the businesses likely to locate on Thomas Street are typically low wage, low benefit positions.
- The expansion of the Thomas Street project being proposed by the CISM Committee unnecessarily increases the cost of the project by millions of dollars. Given that Wausau has just projected a 2015 budget deficit of $750,000, it is hard to imagine the logic behind this decision.
- There are high levels of hazardous waste known to be present on the east end of Thomas Street. Little has been said about this in council meetings, no mention has been made of the need for soil testing, it is uncertain how this may affect contractors and developers, and there seems to be no concern that the people and families in the surrounding neighborhoods might be subjected to harmful conditions.
- Contrary to the statements of some council members, a recent collection of signatures to be presented at the July 8th Council meeting indicates that the majority of the people living on Thomas Street do not want a four lane road. It will destroy the neighborhood, and longtime home owners and renters will be forced out of their homes against their will. This is hardly an action that builds the type of community we all want to live in. More than once citizens speaking out against four lanes on Thomas Street have been accused of “being against progress or growth.” But what is being proposed for the street has nothing to do with true progress or growth. It is simply the destruction of people’s homes for highly questionable reasons.
All are aware that the residents of Thomas Street have been subjected to hardship and pain for many years as a result of the city’s poor policies. It does no good to lay blame. Council members have sincerely struggled with this problem. But when one looks at the litany of reasons why Thomas Street should not be widened to four lanes, it truly begs the question – – Who or what is the driving force behind the incessant desire to expand this project? Hopefully Wausau City Council members will answer this before approving the CISM Committee recommendations.