Wausau will move forward with its Thomas Street expansion project with an eye on completing it by 2017, according to city officials.
The city of Wausau is beginning to flesh out a way forward on its Thomas Street expansion project.
The badly needed road expansion has recently been a topic of controversy since Daily Herald Media reported that the city's mishandling of property acquisitions led to a Federal Highway Administration ban on funding the project, effectively losing the city millions of dollars in funding. (City officials maintain that they did nothing wrong, and had a meeting with feds Thursday to make that case.)
But the truth is that the project had dragged on for years even before the city was notified of the loss of federal funds. The project already has been more than a decade in the making. And while the infractions described by the Highway Administration and the cost to taxpayers resulting from the loss of federal funds both are serious issues, in many ways the biggest victims of the entire mess are the current Thomas Street homeowners. They're stuck not knowing if or when the city will come calling to acquire their homes - but, with the specter of the project hanging over them, they have little realistic chance of selling their homes to anyone else.
So it is understandable that the main questions on the minds of area residents who attended a Wednesday public hearing in Wausau were: What next? Will the project move forward, and if so, when?
That's not a simple question. Plans require approval by Wausau City Council and funding sources remain uncertain. But Public Works and Utilities Director Brad Marquardt did give residents a timeline:
"Something will happen on Thomas Street - hopefully in the next three to four years," Marquardt said.
The city expects to start acquiring properties in 2013 or 2014, Marquardt said, and to begin construction shortly after that. The project will be completed by 2017.
There are many, many unanswered questions around both the past and future of this project. But this does give residents a concrete timeline that should begin to give residents a sense of what they can expect from the city. That's a small step forward, but it is a step.