Citizen Wausau

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3rd Street Direction

by on December 4th, 2009

Early next week, the City of Wausau’s CISM committee will again be looking at Third Street, specifically, the direction of traffic flow. They are also including the city’s Traffic and Parking committee in on the discussion.

Currently, traffic on Third Street starting at the Wausau Center mall runs one-way — north. Third Street is scheduled to be redone in 2010, and if the direction of this one way street were going to change, that would be a good time to do it. And, based on a presentation given to the CISM committee, there is overwhelming support of changing Third Street to a one-way street going south instead.

Many have spoken up or made online comments that investing millions of dollars to change the direction of Third Street is irresponsible considering other needs that the City of Wausau has. However, those comments are not really accurate.

The fact of the matter is that Third Street was slated to be redone in 2009, but late in 2008 many downtown businesses asked the city to hold off. It is no mystery that construction makes it difficult on businesses in the area of that construction. And, with much of the redevelopment in downtown, it seems that every single year something was being built that made it harder for downtown businesses to survive. Once one construction project was complete and businesses were ready to get back to normal, a different one was scheduled. It started to look like having downtown torn up and under construction was “normal.” The businesses asked, and received, a one-year break from construction.

During these discussions in 2008, there was talk of whether or not Third Street even needed to be re-done. Many said it was just fine. The street project included sidewalks and planters and there was discussion of why this would be done, as they were just fine as well. I openly admit that I really don’t spend much time downtown other than my frequent trips to the County Courthouse or Wausau City Hall, so as an “outsider” to downtown (but someone who pays a significant amount of taxes); I decided to check out the situation for myself. I spent a day walking up and down Third Street, taking pictures of the street, of the sidewalks, of the planters. I also walked into a few businesses to talk to them about things. I then shared my thoughts (and a few of the pictures) with Citizen Wausau.

My thoughts at that time: That Third Street was in bad shape. Period. Could it last another year? Probably… but seriously something needs to be done. The planters are mostly wood and years of snow and exposure to the elements have them looking kind of crappy. They could be repaired with similar materials for a low cost that would get another 5-10 years of life out of them, but as nice as some of the facades are in our downtown, having “cheap” wood planters is almost more of a distraction than anything else. The sidewalks though, looked to be in GREAT condition. There were a few spots near intersections where repairs were needed. But as a whole, I saw no reason to do anything with the sidewalks.

So, the one year break from construction is nearly over and the City again wants to proceed with the Third Street project. As a matter of fact, based on comments made by council members, waiting the year was actually a good thing because current economic conditions mean that many contractors are desperate for work. Between contractors looking for work and the price of petroleum-based products down, bids for street work have been coming in lower than expected.

But, the question facing the City now, is the direction of traffic flow. Main Street talked with business owners and other people downtown and summarized in their presentation to the City that most wanted the traffic flow to change to southbound. The theory is that many come to downtown from the north, from Bridge Street. And because of the direction of Third, people fall victim to the “can’t get there from here” situation that can often be caused by one-way streets. Main Street feels that it makes sense to come up 3rd which would end at one of the mall entrances. Based on the overwhelming support of the change in direction, CISM recommended going ahead with the change in direction as part of the reconstruction.

Then came the City Council meeting, where many downtown businesses were questioning the change in direction. They claimed to have done their own informal surveys to come up with the conclusion that the majority actually favored keeping things just the way they were.

Councilman Ed Gale (as well as others who are on the CISM committee) indicated that they were making the recommendation on the change in direction based on a very convincing presentation by Main Street, that this is what downtown business owners wanted. However, now that the business owners are making it known that may not be the case, it would be prudent to bring this back to the committee. It was acknowledged that the original public hearing was held at a time of the day that made it difficult for business owners to attend.

Gale said he would be willing to hold the meeting at a time that was late enough to gain maximum input from those affected. Because of notice requirements, this would not be a “public hearing” as defined by state law, but he did indicate that the committee would solicit the input from those attending the meeting, if they wanted to provide input. The meeting notices have just been posted, and the date of the meeting will be Thursday, 12/10.

So, should Third Street be a one-way going north? Should it run south instead? Or, is it time to open up Third Street to traffic going both directions? What are the thoughts of Citizen Wausau?

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