Mounting public opposition to adding a roundabout at an intersection in the Third Ward neighborhood is prompting Eau Claire City Council members to voice their intent to vote against it.
Though the council unanimously voted in March to add a roundabout at Roosevelt Avenue as part of this year’s State Street reconstruction project, some members have now said they will vote against buying the land needed to make it happen on Tuesday.
“I don’t plan to support the roundabout,” Councilwoman Emily Anderson said Friday.
While it makes sense from a traffic safety standpoint, she said the city is attentive to concerns of constituents who have made their opposition clear in the past two months.
Since the March 12 vote, three families living around the proposed roundabout spoke to the council against the project, and petitions have gotten hundreds of signatures in opposition to it.
Volunteers collected 500 signatures of Eau Claire residents opposed to the roundabout for a variety of reasons.
Among those who signed it were former city councilwomen Kathleen Mitchell and Terri Stanley, county Supervisor James Dunning, retired county Judge Thomas Barland and Eau Claire School Board President Eric Torres, who lives in a house at the Roosevelt Avenue intersection.
A second petition circulated by Maryjo Cohen, president and CEO of Eau Claire-based National Presto Industries, gathered 218 signatures specifically in opposition to the city buying land from homeowners for the roundabout.
And an online petition using the Change.org website received digital signatures from 285 people — the vast majority from Eau Claire, but some from other Wisconsin cities and states — against the roundabout.
In addition to Anderson, other council members have told the Leader-Telegram they intend to vote “no” on Tuesday.
Councilman Jeremy Gragert, who was the leading proponent to the roundabout, Councilman Andrew Werthmann and Councilwoman Laura Benjamin said they’ll vote against pursuing land deals for the roundabout. Councilman David Klinkhammer, who like Benjamin and John Lor were elected in April after the roundabout vote, also said his mind is made up.
“Even though there are undoubtedly a lot of benefits to having the roundabout, it seems to me the imposition it puts upon those residents who are affected is too high a price to pay,” he said.
Several other council members said they are waiting to listen to Monday night’s public discussion on the project before deciding how they will vote.
Council President Terry Weld refrained from saying how he’ll vote, while acknowledging he’s heard the concerns of people opposed to the roundabout.
“We’re all hearing that, understanding that and seeing it,” he said.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle said she’s “keeping an open mind” going into this week’s meetings but noted opposition to the roundabout.
She said the city will need to weigh both public feedback and data from the city engineer on safety and traffic flow benefits of the different ways to configure the intersection.
“We have to make a decision that’s best for the long term,” Emmanuelle said.
At the March council meeting, the city engineer presented three options — minor adjustments to the current intersection, creating a small roundabout without acquiring land from nearby homes or making a larger roundabout that would need property acquisition. The engineer recommended the first option, which maintains free-flowing traffic on State Street, but drivers on Roosevelt Avenue would continue to see long waits at the stop signs there.
The council voted 10-0 on March 12 in favor of the larger roundabout, which would slow southbound traffic on State Street but allow much better traffic flow from Roosevelt Avenue.
This week’s vote is on the city’s process of a relocation order, which would hire an appraiser and begin negotiations for land needed for the larger roundabout approved by the council.
Should the council vote against pursuing land deals, city engineers would begin drafting plans to redo the Roosevelt Avenue intersection without acquiring new land for it, according to a memo written by city engineer David Solberg.
The city also would schedule meetings with different stakeholder groups and the general public to get feedback for a new design for the intersection.
Anderson said she hopes that neighborhood residents, Eau Claire’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, city engineers, UW-Eau Claire student representatives and other groups can come up with another solution that will improve safety at the intersection.
Solberg’s memo notes that an alternative design for the Roosevelt Avenue intersection would be presented to the City Council on July 9.
On Tuesday, the council is scheduled to vote on awarding the $4 million contract to do the State Street project to Haas Sons of Thorp. The contract for about a mile of road work can still be approved this week, Solberg said, even if the design of the Roosevelt Avenue intersection is not yet decided.
State Street serves as a major route to the UW-Eau Claire campus, as well as a connection between the city’s south side and downtown.
• The city Police and Fire departments are applying for $500 stipends from Marshfield Clinic Health System for their efforts to reduce the use of e-cigarettes, aka “vaping,” among teens.
• Annexation of the vacant Little Red Elementary School from the town of Brunswick into the city is set to proceed with a vote on Tuesday.