The City of Winnipeg has set aside at least $2.7 million to study transit and transportation since Sam Katz was elected mayor -- and may spend another $100,000 over the next three months.
On Wednesday, city council's executive policy committee voted to spend up to $100,000 by July on a study that will compare the costs and benefits of light-rail transit versus bus rapid transit.
"It's time for Winnipeg to get out of the Dark Ages," Katz told EPC, which also voted Wednesday to remove the second phase of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor from a city wish list for infrastructure funding.
The city is in the midst of building the 3.6-kilometre first phase of the bus corridor, which runs from Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue near Pembina Highway, at a cost of $138 million.
The Selinger government has offered the city $63 million toward the $210-million cost of building the six-kilometre second leg of the corridor, but Katz wants to spend that money on other road and bridge projects.
The mayor said he's turned down the provincial money because it falls short of the $73.3-million figure that represents one-third of the cost of Phase 2, noting all three levels of government must agree to pay projects financed by the Building Canada Fund. The mayor also said Winnipeg has not received its fair share of infrastructure money from this program.
On Wednesday, Katz again called on Premier Greg Selinger to fly to Ottawa with him to lobby the federal Conservatives to fund a light-rail network in Winnipeg.
The Selinger government has been cool to the idea and wants Winnipeg to complete the bus corridor before it explores other rapid-transit options.
Appearing before EPC, Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi accused Katz of repeating a manoeuvre from 2004, when the newly elected mayor cancelled plans for a bus corridor and asked the city to study rapid transit instead.
"Finish it off," said Gerbasi. "Don't kill it again."
In 2005, the Katz-commissioned Rapid Transit Task Force concluded Winnipeg was better suited for bus rapid transit. But the city began dabbling with light rail again in 2009, when consulting firm HDR was awarded a $53,000 contract to develop a business case for converting bus rapid transit to light-rail transit.
Katz said another $100,000 study is needed to verify a claim made last month by an unnamed rail-industry official who contends light-rail transit now costs no more than twice as much as bus rapid transit, as opposed to six times as much.
Light rail also does more to reduce greenhouse gases and increase both ridership and urban density, the mayor said.
His critics are not convinced.
"This isn't time to study rapid transit. This is the time to build rapid transit," said Paul Hesse of the Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition.
Over the last two years, the city has also devoted $1.25 million to develop a transportation authority and another $1.15 million to develop a new transportation strategy.
The multitude of transportation studies seems redundant, said Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
"It's like they're commissioning them now for the fun of it. Unfortunately, it's costing taxpayers a fortune," he said.
"I understand what the mayor wants to do with light rail, but how many times do you need to study it?"