Senior members of the civic administration have refused to appear before the finance committee to detail changes to the bus transit corridor project.
Finance chairman Russ Wyatt said he was told this morning that senior city officials do not want to discuss the $600-million transit plan in a public forum.
"I’m extremely disappointed," Wyatt (Transcona) said of the administration’s refusal to attend the committee meeting. "I think it’s crucial that a project of this size and magnitude be described and the figures confirmed before we move further on these projects otherwise we will have a runaway bus that will make the police headquarters project look like a popsicle stand."
Wyatt expressed his concerns about unannounced changes to the design and potential significant cost increases to the second phase of the southwest rapid transit corridor.
In a March 28 interview with the Free Press, Wyatt said the administration had informed members of executive policy committee during a private presentation that they were contemplating significant changes to the transit corridor route, including:
- Transforming the Jubilee Underpass into a cloverleaf exchange with a new westward roadway that could benefit developers;
- Construction of additional underpasses;
- Additional rail line relocation;
- Purchase of land from Manitoba Hydro.
City hall’s corporate communications department later contacted the Free Press and said that Wyatt’s allegations about design changes are not accurate but they refused to make Transit director Dave Wardrop available for an interview.
Wyatt said he requested the administration attend this week’s finance committee to present these new developments in a public forum.
However, Wyatt said he was told this morning that the administration will not attend the committee meeting on the grounds that they will make a presentation instead to all of council at a private council seminar.
"What I heard through the clerk’s office, is they are declining to attend," Wyatt said. "That’s not acceptable. They should come to speak to this project.
"This comes down to the question – who is running the city? The mayor and council or is senior administration?"
Wyatt said he supports holding a council seminar but added that members of the finance committee should be informed if there are changes and potential cost increases.
Councillors have not yet been invited to a seminar on the bus corridor project.
No one from administration has responded to a Free Press request for an interview about their refusal to attend this week’s finance committee meeting.
Wyatt said he’s concerned that what’s being presented now as a $600-million project could rapidly increase in price as the administration quietly revises plans.
Wyatt said he’s concerned the bus corridor project will be a repeat of the police headquarters project, where council was presented with a series of cost increases.
Wyatt said the transit corridor was originally proposed in December 2012 as a $275-million project which later rose in price to $350 million. The project has since ballooned to $600 million, with the transit portion now costing $425 million. Additional works includes reconstruction of the Jubilee underpass, at $105 million, and related sewer drainage work, at $70 million.
Wyatt said councillors need to know whether the current cost estimates are accurate or if proposed design changes, which have not been approved by council, will drive the costs higher.
"We need to get a handle on this project and we need to get a handle on it now," Wyatt said.
"Unless we clearly identify what we’re doing here and that this has council support, the costs of these projects will spiral... which we cannot allow to happen again."
Wyatt said a major increase in the project should prompt council to consider converting the bus corridor into a light rail project.