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Rapid Transitway opens to cheers

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The official launch of Winnipeg’s first dedicated busway was greeted with cheers from transit supporters, but Winnipeg’s mayor and Manitoba’s premier remain far apart on a deal to complete the next leg.

The Southwest Transitway opened for promotional rides today, allowing eager-beaver bus riders to get a glimpse of a the $138-million corridor that goes into service Easter Sunday.

The 3.6-kilometre busway, which runs from Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue at Pembina Highway, allows buses travelling between downtown Winnipeg and southwest Winnipeg to bypass traffic at Osborne Village, Confusion Corner and the northern section of Pembina Highway. Thirteen transit routes will use all or part of corridor, which includes a bridge over Osborne Street, a tunnel below the Fort Rouge rail yards and three rapid-transit stations. It takes seven minutes to go from one end to the other, including stops.

Winnipeg Transit service-development manager Bill Menzies, who has worked on the project for 32 years, said the corridor will shave an average of eight minutes minutes off a rush-hour bus ride between downtown and southwest destinations -- or even more during traffic snarls in Osborne Village.

At an official launch to the event, politicians were greeted with a rare round of cheers from a pro-transit crowd of onlookers. Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz called the transitway launch a fulfillment of former mayor Stephen Juba’s 40-year-old rapid-transit dream, while Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger called the corridor one of the most important projects in Winnipeg’s future.

The two leaders, however, remain far apart on a deal to complete the second phase of Southwest Transitway, which would run another six kilometres to the University of Manitoba, either parallel to Pembina Highway or in an L-shaped dogleg through Fort Garry residential neighbourhoods. The project will cost $275 million to complete as a busway – or $700 million to upgrade to light rail, according to Winnipeg’s Transportation Master Plan.

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Katz reiterated he wants growth revenues to pay for the corridor, but Selinger is opposed to providing the city with funding powers. The premier said recovering from the 2011 flood is the province’s top infrastructure priority.

Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia MP Steven Fletcher said he knows Katz would prefer the city to have a direct share of gas taxes to pay for the second phase of the corridor, but urged the mayor to wait for the federal Conservatives to launch a new infrastructure-funding program in 2014.

The city hopes to complete the second phase of the Southwest Transitway by 2016, which would mean construction would have to start in 2013 at the latest.

This year, the city and province will determine the best route for the second phase and also explore whether it could end directly at Investors Group Field, the new football stadium at the University of Manitoba campus. The city and province are also working on a funding plan.

Katz and Selinger joked they will have a lot of fun trying to come up with an agreement.

In the mean time, transit service utilizing the busway will begin in earnest on Sunday. But the real test will come during the morning rush hour on Tuesday, the first back-to-work day for all citizens after the Easter long weekend.

Today, the first Winnipeggers to ride on the busway offered mixed reviews of the experience following their promotional rides, which did not include actual service to Fort Garry, Linden Woods and River Heights neighbourhoods

"It was beautiful," said West Kildonan resident Lori Benoit, who said she and her husband normally avoid "painfully slow" Winnipeg Transit. "Now we want more of it."

University of Winnipeg student Hanatsi Ashgedom, however, said it’s too early to tell if building the corridor was worth the expense.

"It’s been hyped up a little too much," he said, after trying out the corridor to see if it would be a better alternative to the express bus he currently uses to get downtown from St. Vital.

New York City native Marina Havard, who uses Winnipeg Transit every day, said Manitobans don't know how good they have it.

"You guys have a way better transit system," said Havard, who moved to the city two years ago. "Each time I go back I miss Winnipeg."

Winnipeg Transit was forced to call for extra buses to meet the demand for promotional rides.


Southwest Transitway

First-phase route: From Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue near Pembina Highway.

Purpose: Initially, to allow buses travelling between downtown and southwest Winnipeg to bypass traffic in Osborne Village, at Confusion Corner and along the northern stretch of Pembina Highway. May eventually be extended south to University of Manitoba. May also be upgraded to light rail corridor.

Cost: $138 million, including land acquisition.

Funding: $55 million from the City of Winnipeg, $55 million from the Province of Manitoba, $28 million from Ottawa.

Originally conceived: 1976, by the Southwest Transit Corridor Study.

First incarnation: Initial funding appeared in the 2004 capital budget during the Glen Murray administration. Murray then resigned and newly elected Mayor Sam Katz convinced council to cancel the project.

Second incarnation: Katz and former premier Gary Doer announced the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor in 2008.

Construction: 2009 to 2011, with final tinkering to transit stations early this year. The work included 31,000 cubic metres of concrete, 300 kilometres of reinforcing bars and 500 tonnes of girders, structural beams and trusses. Sections of Donald Street and Stradbrook Avenue were moved to accommodate the corridor and a new pumping station was built to aid land drainage.

Major features: A new bridge over Osborne Street, south of Confusion Corner, and a 350-metre tunnel below the Fort Rouge Yards. Winnipeg Transit claims the tunnel is the longest for motor vehicles in Manitoba.

Bus routes: Seven existing and three new bus routes will use the entire transitway. Three routes will also utilize a portion of the transitway. Another four are being modified to connect to rapid-transit routes. A new Route 99 will run between Osborne Village and downtown to replace routes shifted onto the transitway.

Rapid-transit stations: New stations at Harkness Street, Osborne Street and Morley Avenue in Fort Rouge, plus a Balmoral Street terminus on the University of Winnipeg campus.

Peak transitway use (weekdays at Osborne Station): 43 southbound buses per hour from 7 to 8 a.m.; 42 northbound buses per hour from 4 to 5 p.m.

Bike lockers: Eight enclosed lockers for bikes at Osborne Station; four each at Harkness and Fort Rouge stations. Cyclists must supply their own locks. Winnipeg Transit is developing a protocol for cutting off locks left too long.

Bike-and-pedestrian paths: East of the transitway, the South Winnipeg Parkway runs from The Forks to the intersection of Osborne and Glasgow in Fort Rouge. There's also a path from Jubilee Avenue to Osborne and Glasgow. West of the transitway, there's a shared sidewalk from Osborne Station to The Forks. A gap remains at the Osborne underpass, forcing cyclists to dismount. The path can only be widened when CN replaces its rail bridge.

Emergency access: Ambulances, police cars and fire trucks may use the transitway during emergencies.

Unauthorized access: Anyone who drives, walks, in-line skating or rides a bike or skateboard on the transitway will be subject to a $500 fine.


Updated on Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 11:28 AM CDT: added comments from promotional rides

3:04 PM: New version includes comments.

6:20 PM: adds video

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