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Abitz expresses disappointment with Wausau council on Thomas Street progress


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Wausau’s City Council continues to struggle with issues tied to Thomas Street redevelopment. The east-west street is one of only three Wausau crossings over the Wisconsin River, and gets a considerable amount of truck and auto traffic.

The city had contracted GRAEF Engineering and Design from Milwaukee to develop a concept plan for the corridor, which the Finance and Economic Development Committees both approved two weeks ago. The full council Tuesday night had to vote to accept the design work or go back to the drawing board again.

When some council members expressed concern about the GRAEF plan, Alderwoman Sherry Abitz said she was disappointed in her fellow council members, and that not moving forward is just not acceptable for the city or the Thomas Street property owners anymore.  “We are at another standstill again, that these residents cannot move forward, because you want to delay it one more time. Well delay it, and then you talk to these residents who cannot sell their home, that cannot sell their business, and cannot move forward with their lives.”

Abitz scolded her colleagues, city staff, and previous councils for handling the Thomas Street issue so poorly.  “We have been working on this discussion since 1967 in the neighborhood. We have not moved forward on anything. This did not take this long on Bridge Street. This did not take this long on Stewart Avenue. We are moving forward on Grand Avenue again, and we still have not done anything on Thomas Street.”

Capital Improvements & Street Maintenance Committee chair Lisa Rasmussen agrees that the lack of action cannot continue and a compromise needs to be reached.  “If I continued with my heels dug in for that five-lane design, which I still want out there, and six or seven people follow me, we will never move forward because we have a different group of folks in other committees that will never fund the buyouts if we continue. That’s gridlock here. We can’t have that.”

Council President Romey Wagner says there are some residents that want the improvements, and some that do not. He believes there is a way to improve that street without having a 94 foot right-of-way all the way from the river to 17th Avenue.  “There isn’t a traffic problem, there’s a traffic flow problem, and that’s where we put in these turn lanes. We go to the two lanes with a turn lane in the middle, we get the extra width for safety for bicycles, for pedestrians.”

After lengthy discussion, Abitz called for the question and the council voted 8-2 to accept the GRAEF plan. Wagner says this really is just accepting what size the right-of-way should be, and does not finalize a specific layout for street lanes, bike paths, and sidewalks. Those items will come later after further committee work.

(Listen to Council President Romey Wagner's comments on our webpage, here.)