The dedicated bus corridor project passed another hurdle at city hall Tuesday, even as opponents continue to question its financing, its route and its impact on the environment.
The public works committee endorsed the business plan and construction method for the $590-million project, which will go to council for final approval later this month.
"There is a time where you have to do something that is a tough decision and I think the members of this council have to do that now," Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said as she defended her vote on the project. "We cannot be a city without mass transit — it’s just wrong, morally wrong."
The hearing was required under provincial legislation when city hall proposed the second stage of the seven-kilometre bus corridor be constructed as a public-private partnership, with a yet-to-be-chosen contractor designing, building and maintaining the corridor.
Very few of the comments from the public dealt with the public-private aspect of the project. Instead, the opponents’ focus was on aspects of the plan settled long ago by city hall — the curious dog-leg route through vacant land and that impact on sensitive wetlands.
The application for federal funding will require council approval but securing that vote won’t be easy. There could be as many as six councillors who will vote against the project — for a variety of different reasons — and they would need only two more votes to scuttle it.
While the project was approved by the committee, its chairman, Coun. Justin Swandel, voted against the proposal.
Swandel (St. Norbert) said he never supported the route through the wetlands and wants the project delayed until the city can study the feasibility of removing the CNR Letellier rail line.
Coun. John Orlikow, who is not a member of the committee, told the hearing he supports rapid transit but added he’s not convinced the project as proposed should continue.
Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said he supports a direct route along Pembina Highway, and the project will cost $1 billion over 30 years and council still has not decided how it will pay for its share.
"Deciding to spend money without knowing how you’re going to pay for it is irresponsible," Orlikow said.
Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said delaying the project to find a better route would risk the city losing out on $140 million in federal funding and could delay the completion of the corridor for years.