Balanced approach

After spending nearly 75 minutes debating aspects of the proposed $2.1 million West Auglaize Street reconstruction project, a Wapakoneta city official stresses the key is striking a balance between the interests of neighborhood and city residents for the betterment of the entire community.

Wapakoneta Councilor-at-large Dan Graf listened to 1st Ward Councilor Jim Neumeier arguing on behalf of more public input, which includes people wanting the section of West Auglaize Street to stay the same width of 37 feet and to save as many trees as possible, and Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr., who argued street engineers and consultants believe 39 feet provides for a safer street and the same number of trees must be cut down at 37 feet as 39 feet.

“We have to have a balance between what is good for the neighborhood residents living on that section of West Auglaize Street and what is good for the city as a whole and the motorists who use that street,” Graf said Wednesday after chairing a Streets, Alleys and Sidewalks Committee meeting. “We must consider all opinions and options, but really our primary goal is we want to make the street as safe as it can possibly be for everyone.”

Under the proposal presented Wednesday, West Auglaize Street is to be widened from 37 feet to 39 feet to allow for better parking and for safer passage of vehicles on the two-lane street.

Under either plan, the same number of trees would have to be felled.

With any option presented to the public, the street’s infrastructure — water, sanitary sewer and stormwater sewers along with natural gas and street base — would be completely replaced.

“I think Mary Ruck (Engineering superintendent) has done a very good job in trying to minimize the widening of the street,” Graf said after the meeting. “I urge residents to walk out to the street and to see what taking away a foot would do and how it would effect the tree lawn. They have to keep in mind it would add some width to the parking spaces for themselves and guests and would provide some width to the driving lanes.”

During the meeting, Neumeier said he wanted to see actual options for residents to consider when a public meeting is set. He did not want a set plan explained to them with a pre-determined width.

“Many of the people who live on that street don’t want the street widened — they think it is fine the way it is,” Neumeier said. “They don’t want that tree lawn shortened. It has been this way for years and it is fine.”

Looking at a engineer’s drawing with a 39-foot width with an option of abutments for six trees, Neumeier questioned city administrators where the plan was that did not call for any widening of the street.

He suggested on multiple options be available for the public to consider at a meeting, which no date or time has been set.

Finkelmeier argued the plans were designed with input from Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) engineers when the plans were drawn with a 39-foot width.

“I am not insensitive to the wishes of the people living there, but I represent 10,000 people and only one out of 100 of those people will still be living in a house on that street 50 years from now, but that street will still be used by the public the entire time so that is why I have the opinion of widening the street — based on the best recommendations of smart engineers and not me,” Finkelmeier said. “I just want to do what the smart people say we should do and not to keep the street narrow and create and impediment to save six trees that won’t be there decades into the future.

“We also have accounted for reforestation of West Auglaize Street,” the councilor said. “I know they won’t be as big, but once upon a time those trees were not big either — that is all part of renewal. Sometimes you go back to the drawing board, clean it up, fix it up and you start over.”

Mayor Rodney Metz, Safety-Service Director Bill Rains and Public Works Superintendent Meril Simpson agreed with Finkelmeier and Graf that one proposal to have abutments, which would be extensions into the street used to save six trees and protect fire hydrants, would cause maintenance problems during the year, especially during snow removal. They cited the concrete abutment or the snow plow would be damaged, creating additional costs to the city.

Graf suggested Ruck develop plans with clear overlays to show options on the drawing for items such as the abutments, vehicles on the road and additional work to intersection of Hamilton, West Auglaize and West Mechanic streets.

Graf would like that intersection streamlined to permit eastbound traffic on West Auglaize Street to be closer to the Hamilton Street intersection. He also voided a left-hand turn lane on West Auglaize Street at Hamilton Street to provide for more parking along the street.

The city received a $1.84 million ODOT grant for the project. The city would be responsible for approximately $300,000.