Residents Speak Out About Thomas Street Renovation Project

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UPDATE: 7/14
"I'm happy here. I'm comfortable. I want to stay here until I die."

That's what Larry Anklam, 72, exclaimed when he was asked about what he thought of the Thomas Street renovation project. He has lived in his house since 1977, but if street expansion would go through, that means his home of 37 years would be gone.

"I would have to move along with many, many, many people and it would be traumatic for us. I mean, it's not that I would cry all the time, but I don't want to move," he said.

More than 30 people signed a petition against the two and four-lane hybrid plan and presented it in Tuesday's meeting.

"I don't think any of the traffic studies have shown there's a problem with the road," said Thomas Street resident Tom Kilian. "That's one of the issues: to force people out of a neighborhood they love when the D.O.T. studies say 'look, this isn't necessary.'"

The Department of Transportation has done traffic studies to see if the road can actually handle current traffic now and in the future with growth expectations. The studies show it can with just two lanes, but some residents would argue against that.

"I'm in favor of the four lanes because the traffic flow is so heavy through here and it's hard to get in and out of your driveway at certain times of the day," said Thomas Street resident Gary Hable.

His home is in need of several repairs he has been putting off because of the uncertainty. He said he's need a new roof and siding for "probably about three years." He said if the council doesn't make a decision by spring, he will do those two needed repairs.

Businesses have been taking a toll too. Restaurant property owner, Wilfrid Guillaume said he keeps updating his shop to attract buyers and renters that only end up staying for a short period of time.

"I'm so disgusted with it," he said. "I don't even want to mess with this restaurant anymore. In fact, I'm not so sure that I would even buy a piece of property in the City of Wausau.

A lot of people for the expansion told NewsChannel 7 that at this point, they want a decision made more than anything, but those against it said they want the right decision made and they don't care if it takes another ten years.

It was a heated discussion in the Wausau City Council Chambers Tuesday evening over the long debated topic of what to do with the $15M Thomas Street project, a project that's been discussed since 2002.

"This is getting ridiculous that we cannot move forward on this issue," said Alderperson Sherry Abitz.

The members discussed a hybrid two and four-lane plan that would expand the street to four lanes running from the Wisconsin River bridge to 3rd Avenue and two lanes from there to South 17th Avenue.

The city spent nearly $52,000 for Milwaukee-based GRAEF Engineering to analyze the area and come up with a compromise plan, after a previous five-lane plan was turned down.

"We redesigned it to give it a neighborhood feel. We softened it up. We added design elements. We narrowed some of the pedestrian staging areas in the middle. We've created turn lanes so that the bottleneck doesn't happen at the stop lights. Everything everyone asked for," said Alderperson Lisa Rasmussen.

Some residents, however, still weren't happy and one resident even offered his own plan. Kevin Korpela is a manager at Downtown Grocery in Wausau and also is registered as an architect. He said he saw no reason for more than two lanes down that street.

Abitz disagrees. She said the area is heavily used by trucks as bigger companies lke Koble and Koble drive through these residential like streets and have difficulties maneuvering. She said expanding the roadway would help attract more businesses and help grow Wausau. Several businesses are already planning to move to the street. Wausau Roofing and Siding has plans to move their main office there in the fall.

"We like that location because the traffic is intense. You can hardly cross the street there," said Wausau Roofing and Siding owner Jess Kufahl. "That road is a major corridor between Rib Mountain and Downtown Wausau and there's just a lot of action there."

Some members wanted to table the 4-2 hybrid plan in order to look at the new plan offered by Korpela.

"We don't listen to the residents. We just do what we want," said Alderperson Robert Meilke. "I think these folks deserve to be listened to. They don't want it, I will not support it."

The vote to again delay a decision had Abitz walking out mid-meeting. Over the phone, she said "it's unspeakable what they are doing to the residents and home owners." She said she was "washing her hands" of the matter and when asked if she meant she wanted to resign over the issue, she said "yes."

"We are the middle of Thomas Street right now repaving it so that it will last another three years for the delay because of the delay. We have people that are trying to move on with their lives that were are now delaying again because they cannot decide here at City Council on what they want to do with the street," she said at the meeting.

"Most of the time people are remodeling their houses, their shingles or siding and stuff like that and that's kind of being put on hold," said owner of Thunder Lube Brandon Leher. His shop was on Thomas Street for 16 years. Last month he opened is store at the new location on the corner of Thomas Street and 17th Avenue because he wanted to own the building too.

After Abitz had left the meeting, the council voted 7-3 to table the decision on the project and instead sent it to the Coordinating Committee for further review.

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