Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Transit dispute may be costly

Feds' funds gone if city, province don't arrive at bus-route deal

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For the past three years, Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger have been locked in a maddening stalemate over the completion of the Southwest Transitway.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

For the past three years, Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger have been locked in a maddening stalemate over the completion of the Southwest Transitway. Photo Store

Vote-rich Ontario, home to a third of Canada's 308 ridings, is a great place to be if you're trying to pry infrastructure money out of Ottawa.

In Toronto, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has promised to cough up $660 million to extend a single subway line.

In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson is seeking a similar chunk of federal cash for a $2.5-billion expansion of a rapid-transit network that already boasts four dedicated busway routes and an eight-kilometre light-rail line.

And in Hamilton, the feds are picking up almost half the $148-million tab for a brand-new Canadian Football League stadium.

"I think we know where the major votes come from," Mayor Sam Katz observed on Wednesday, after being presented with this list of projects.

The challenge in Winnipeg, home to a grand total of eight piddly ridings, is for local politicians to pick their spots when it comes to requesting federal cash.

Given the limited potential to pick up additional seats in Winnipeg, federal governments of any political persuasion cannot be expected to shower the Manitoba capital with excessive amounts of cash.

What that means is Winnipeg can only expect to rely on money that flows from infrastructure-funding programs that are either divvied up on the basis of population -- namely, the Building Canada Fund -- or targeted through specific mechanisms, such as the P3 Canada Fund.

But even cash from these sources won't flow if Winnipeg's mayor and Manitoba's premier can't put their differences aside and agree on projects worthy of funding -- and the means by which they hope to obtain that cash.

For the past three years, Katz and Premier Greg Selinger have been locked in a maddening stalemate over the completion of the Southwest Transitway.

The first phase of this dedicated busway, built at a cost of $138 million, is only 3.6 kilometres. The seven-kilometre extension, which would connect downtown to the University of Manitoba, is expected to cost $350 million alone -- or up to $600 million if it's bundled with other southwest Winnipeg infrastructure projects, such as the reconstruction of the Pembina Highway underpass at Jubilee Avenue.

Katz, who was angered by former premier Gary Doer's decision to spend Building Canada Fund dollars on CentrePort Canada Way rather than on Winnipeg priorities, is determined to devote any future Building Canada cash to road and bridge projects. So Katz has placed all his transitway-funding eggs in the P3 Canada basket, which is devoted to projects built in partnership with the private sector.

On Wednesday, the mayor told reporters he and Selinger have until Dec. 1 to agree upon a transitway funding deal or risk missing another P3 Canada deadline.

"Putting in an application without the support of the provincial government is not going to get very far," Katz said.

But the Selinger government insists it's already agreed to cover a third of the transitway's cost. The problem is under P3 Canada guidelines, Ottawa would only cover a quarter of the cost -- leaving a gap between what Broadway is willing to spend and what the city wants it to pay.

Further aggravating this relationship is the Selinger government's insistence that Winnipeg borrows money on behalf of the province, which has less financial wiggle room than the city.

For nearly three years, neither side has budged on either the borrowing issue or the funding gap -- while the cost of the transitway project keeps going up.

"The cost estimate has grown from $190 million in 2010 to well over $500 million today for an integrated transit and road-redevelopment project," a Selinger spokesman noted Wednesday in a statement. "The larger project scope and cost estimate are issues that continue to be discussed between provincial and city officials."

Given Winnipeg's near-futile 50-year history of rapid-transit development, the time for talking is over. While this city bickered and squabbled over building 3.6 kilometres along a single freaking busway, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa built entire networks of dedicated transitway and light rail. Montreal and Toronto, meanwhile, expanded their subways.

It does not matter if Selinger or Katz is right about the minutiae of the transitway deal. Nobody outside their offices cares about the blame.

Instead, our leaders have no choice but to sit down and hammer out a deal. And they better do it quickly enough to prevent Winnipeg from missing out on federal infrastructure money.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2013 B1

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Updated on Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 7:52 AM CDT: Adds photo

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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