For Winnipeggers who follow politics as well as hockey, the only thing more unattainable than NHL labour peace might just be a deal to complete the Southwest Transitway.
But a surprise move by Mayor Sam Katz has made the rapid-transit negotiations appear more promising than any closed-door discussions at hockey central in New York City.
By offering $137.5 million to extend the Southwest Transitway to the University of Manitoba campus, Winnipeg's mayor has opened up the possibility of ending an impasse that effectively began in September 2008.
At the end of the Labour Day long weekend that year, Katz and former premier Gary Doer stood inside a Fort Rouge bus garage to announce a $138-million plan to build the Southwest Transitway's first leg, a 3.6-kilometre busway that runs from Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue at Pembina Highway.
After Doer resigned, successor Greg Selinger repeatedly asked Katz to show him the money to complete the corridor. What transpired next was just as painful as the NHL labour negotiations, albeit stretched out over three years.
First, the city pulled the completion of the Southwest Transitway from its list of big-ticket spending priorities. Then, Katz announced a preference for light-rail tracks over busways, claiming it would be cheaper to lay down train tracks than previously thought.
The city and province traded barbs about who would pay for a busway leg that now comes with a $350-million price tag. Katz wanted money on the table, while Selinger said future property-tax revenue could cover the tab.
Any hope to complete a deal seemed remote until Thursday, when Katz came almost out of nowhere with a pledge to spend $137.5 million to complete the Southwest Transitway.
Standing inside the same Fort Rouge transit garage, albeit without the premier beside him, Katz promised to devote $10 million in the city's 2014 capital budget toward the busway construction and then another $127.5 million in 2015.
"We have made this a priority," said Katz, explaining the city wants to have its money in place in time for the province to make a commitment of its own. "We have an opportunity to make sure this gets done."
The funding commitment, which will be included in the city's spending forecast early in 2013, marks the first time Katz has pledged money for rapid transit before other levels of government offered hard cash.
Back in 2008, Katz only came to the transitway table after Ottawa made a use-it-or-lose-it offer of $17.5 million for transportation funding in Manitoba. The city rebuffed subsequent provincial offers to pay for one-third of the second phase, as Katz insisted knowing where exactly the city was supposed to find the money.
On Thursday, the mayor made the unusual pledge of promising to borrow all $137.5 million of the city's money if the province follows through on its pledge to fund the project.
This amounts to both a compromise and a challenge, as the province faces mounting debt, an enormous deficit and a recent pledge to cut spending.
"There is no doubt in my mind about the province's desire to do this," Katz said. "You have heard them say rapid transit is a priority on many occasions."
Council finance chairman Russ Wyatt (Transcona) also asked the province to match a $1.1-million city commitment in 2013 to continue work on the design of the Southwest Transitway's second leg and begin plans for an East Transitway that will connect downtown to Transcona.
Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux said the province has already agreed to devote $1.1 million to transitway design and also stands by its repeated pledges to cover one-third of the cost of the Southwest Transitway's second leg.
Although that works out to only $116.7 million, Lemieux said he believes further discussions with the federal government may yield additional money.
"I'm pleased we're looking at a firm commitment from the city, instead of looking at every option under the sun," said Lemieux, who hopes all three levels of government will cover one-third of the $350-million tab.
The city, however, is only expecting Ottawa to pony up $75 million through a fund dedicated for public-private partnerships. Although the city will own the entire Southwest Transitway, the second leg could be constructed as a design-build partnership with a private consortium, Wyatt said.
If a deal can be reached between all three levels of government, construction could begin in 2014 and the corridor would be finished by 2018, said Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop.
Pending council approval of an alignment recommendation early next year, the second leg would run west through the Parker neighbourhood and then south along a Manitoba Hydro corridor. A study by Dillon Consulting concluded this seven-kilometre route offers more benefits and fewer drawbacks than installing a busway along the CN Letellier line, parallel to Pembina Highway.
Although this western dogleg is longer, Winnipeg Transit maintains it will create less traffic disruption in Fort Garry -- and allow buses to run at higher speeds -- because it will cross fewer streets. The western route should also be cheaper and have more room for new housing developments that could generate property taxes to offset construction costs, according to material presented at open houses in October.
The redevelopment of the former Southwood Golf Course land on the U of M campus may also allow this route to terminate directly at Investors Group Field, the new football stadium slated to open in 2013. The original intention was for the transitway to be finished in time to service the stadium.
But there are few complaints among transit proponents on city council about a deal to complete the line by 2018.
"I've always said the city has to take the lead in showing our commitment. This is a very positive step," said Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, praising Katz for pledging Southwest Transitway funds and starting on the East Transitway. "If you're expecting to get other funders on board, we have to get ourselves on board."
36 years and counting
The long and winding road toward the completion of the Southwest Transitway:
During the waning years of the Stephen Juba administration, the Winnipeg Southwest Transit Corridor Study concludes a diesel busway connecting downtown and southern Fort Garry makes more financial and operational sense than a monorail, a light-rail track or an electric-trolley bus corridor.
During the Bill Norrie administration, the first Plan Winnipeg calls for three dedicated busways: A southwest corridor along Pembina Highway, an eastern corridor along Regent Avenue and a southeast corridor to the Trans-Canada Highway.
After Susan Thompson is elected mayor, an update called Plan Winnipeg: Toward 2010 makes little mention of rapid transit. But the city begins buying land and setting it aside for a southwest corridor.
Transplan 2010 recommends the city hold off on rapid transit. Glen Murray is then elected mayor and creates a working group on public transportation.
The working group’s final report, Direction to Our Future, recommends the construction of a rapid-transit corridor. Murray proposes a $50-million plan to finally build an abbreviated version of the southwest corridor.
Plan Winnipeg 2020, calls for five busways — corridors in the southwest, northwest, eastern, northeast and southeast.
Council sets aside $1.7 million to plan and design the Southwest Transit Corridor.
All three levels of government announce plans to build a $51-million southwest corridor by 2007. Murray then resigns. Newly elected Mayor Sam Katz convinces council to scrap the project and creates a Rapid Transit Task Force to review the city’s options.
Katz convinces Ottawa and the province to allow Winnipeg to redirect $43 million of buscorridor money to recreation projects. The Rapid Transit Task Force concludes the city should build two busways, to the University of Manitoba and Transcona.
After Ottawa pledges $17.5 million to Manitoba transit, the city and province re-announce plans to build a 9.6-kilometre southwest rapid-transit corridor at a cost of the $327 million over six years. But funding is only confirmed for the 3.6-kilometre first phase, a $138-million link between Queen Elizabeth Way and Jubilee Avenue at Pembina Highway.
Katz announces he wants to see four light-rail lines in Winnipeg and convinces council to remove the second phase of the southwest corridor from a list of city infrastructure priorities.
The Transportation Master Plan identifies six rapid-transit corridors to be complete by 2031. Council approves a plan to bump up the completion date for the Southwest Transit Corridor to 2016.
The Southwest Transitway opens on April 8 and the city starts looking at alignment options. In December, Katz commits to spending $137.5 million on the second phase of the Southwest Transitway, whose pricetag is now $350 million.
Pending a funding deal with Ottawa and Broadway, construction on the second phase could begin.
Proposed completion of the Southwest Transitway.