WINNIPEG - City council has approved a plan to designate light rail as Winnipeg's preferred mode of rapid transit.
Council voted 10-4 today to approve a plan to incorporate flexible streetcars into the city's long-term transportation plan and continue to seek federal funds to complete the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor as a streetcar corridor.
The widely expected move further escalates the city-provincial dispute over the corridor, which the province wants to complete as a busway.
The $138-million first phase of the corridor - a 3.6-kilometre busway that extends from Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubillee Avenue at Pembina Highway - is under construction and expected to be completed in late 2011.
Ottawa and Manitoba have offered the city $126 million in infrastructure-stimulus funds to complete phase two, a six-kilometre extension to Bison Drive near the University of Manitoba.
Phase Two originally came with a price of $189 million, but the city adjusted that up to $220 million this winter.
Mayor Sam Katz says it will probably cost more like $270 million by the time construction would start in 2012. This is part of the reason why he would prefer to spend more - likely well above $500 million - to complete the corridor for streetcars also capable of riding on tracks on city streets.
Evoking late former Manitoba premier Duff Roblin's drive to build the Red River Floodway, Katz said Winnipeg should not be afraid to be ambitious.
Katz wants to use stimulus funds to pay for road and bridge projects such as traffic improvements around Polo Park and a western extension of Chief Peguis Trail.
He said council should fight to get both light rail and road projects.
Opposition councillors, who have spent months trying in vain to block Katz's move, argued Winnipeg is in danger of losing out on federal money and could wind up with no rapid-transit project.
"Every time we wait, it costs us more," said Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who voted against the LRT plan along with Lillian Thomas (Elmwood), Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) and Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre).
St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves, attempting to play peacemaker, says council has achieved a huge victory because members are arguing about which mode of rapid transit is right for Winnipeg - not whether rapid transit should be built.