Three months after pushing to create a roundabout at a neighborhood intersection near UW-Eau Claire, the Eau Claire City Council effectively reversed its decision.
In a 10-0 vote — Councilwoman Kate Beaton was absent — the council decided Tuesday to not pursue acquiring land from homeowners around the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and State Street needed to make a roundabout.
“We certainly don’t want to pressure someone to sell land if they’re not going to be happy with the outcome at all,” Councilman Jeremy Gragert said.
He was a sponsor of the successful March 12 effort to add the fourth roundabout to three others that didn’t attract the same controversy as part of about a mile of roadwork slated this year for State Street. Since then the council heard from neighboring landowners and other 3rd Ward, as well as receiving petitions with hundreds of signatures opposing the Roosevelt Avenue roundabout.
“Before the petitions arrived about half the people who got in touch with me were in favor of the roundabout and the other half were against it,” Gragert said.
He and other council members said their prior decision was made with safety in mind, but they acknowledged the political reality that public opinion had swayed against it.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle said her previous vote in favor of the roundabout was driven by data showing that it was the safest option for the intersection.
But since then she’s heard from many Eau Claire residents — even her 14-year-old daughter — that the roundabout is a very unpopular choice for that location.
“I heard loud and clear ‘no way, uh-uh, not going to happen,’” Emmanuelle said.
On Monday night, 15 Eau Claire residents spoke to the council — all opposed to the roundabout — but some council members felt there still was silent support for the controversial change to the intersection.
As opposition grew louder in recent weeks, Councilman Andrew Werthmann said those who still wanted a roundabout didn’t feel comfortable speaking up anymore.
“That’s not OK,” he said.
He commended the petitioners for the time and energy that went into collecting hundreds of signatures, but Werthmann also said he’d heard some people who signed that were told inaccurate information on how close cars would be to homes at the roundabout.
“There was a lot of misinformation out there about this project and about the impacts of this project,” he said.
But Werthmann acknowledged that more people have spoken out that they want something other than a roundabout at the intersection.
Council President Terry Weld said the council voted for the roundabout in March because they believed it was the best option at the time.
“Our intentions were good,” he said.
Weld added that he’s thankful for residents who spoke up and pledged the city will work to make the intersection safer.
That may include the addition of a concrete island on the north side of the intersection between the two traffic lanes on State Street so pedestrians can cross the street one lane at a time. Gragert and others also mentioned a flashing traffic light pedestrians can turn on when they want to cross the street, more signs around the crossing and potentially a slower speed limit.
City engineer David Solberg intends to present a new design for the Roosevelt Avenue intersection to the council in early July. Before then he will be meeting with those closely impacted by the intersection, including the 3rd Ward Neighborhood Association, UW-Eau Claire and the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, to discuss its redesign.
With the delay tied to rethinking the Roosevelt Avenue intersection design, Solberg said there’s a 50/50 chance of getting that portion of the State Street project done this year. If the portion of the State Street project in the 3rd Ward and close to the university campus isn’t built this year, it will be postponed to 2020 and coincide with work already planned for Garfield Avenue.
The council did vote 10-0 to hire Haas Sons of Thorp to do the $4 million in road work planned this year on State Street.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting:
• In a 10-0 vote, the council agreed to annex the vacant Little Red Elementary School from the town of Brunswick into city limits.