Winnipeg’s Transit boss tried to calm fears that the second phase of the bus corridor project is spiraling out of control.
But the project’s harshest critics remain doubtful.
Transit director Dave Wardrop’s verbal update on the project at today’s finance committee contradicted much of the speculation that finance chairman Russ Wyatt has been promoting for the past two weeks — spiralling over-budget with unapproved design changes — and justified upgrading the project from bus to light rail.
Wardrop said preliminary design work on the corridor project — which includes the 7.6-kilometre corridor, reconstruction of the Jubilee underpass, and nearby sewer and drainage work — has shaved $10 million from the price tag, now at $590 million.
Wardrop said that instead of constructing additional underpasses and overpasses, the project now involves one less grade separation; and, there are no plans to convert the Jubilee Underpass into a cloverleaf intersection with construction of a new westward roadway.
But Wyatt, who missed the meeting because of illness, later said he was surprised by the details in Wardrop’s presentation.
Wyatt (Transcona) said Wardrop’s presentation was radically different than the report Wardrop and other administrators had given to members of executive policy committee at a private briefing six weeks ago.
"That was definitely not what we were presented six weeks or so ago," Wyatt said, adding he remains skeptical about the project’s final cost and the design changes.
"One has to wonder if the (budget) numbers are firm or just a moving target," Wyatt said. "The devil will be in the details. I remain skeptical."
Wardrop said his report wasn’t made in defence of Wyatt’s speculation or Coun. Scott Fielding’s public campaign to kill the project.
Continued debate on a project that council had already approved is another way to keep the community informed, Wardrop said.
"This is a huge project. It’s a considerable capital investment," Wardrop told reporters following his report to the finance committee. "Healthy debate on alternatives and the issues is important and I think it’s valued... It’s in the best interest of the community to make sure the right decisions are being made."
Wyatt’s illness pre-empted what appeared to be a pending confrontation between the administration and a senior politician. Not only did Wyatt say the project appeared to be getting out of control, he said the administration had initially refused to discuss the project at today’s meeting, which civic officials later said wasn’t accurate.
But Wardrop, despite having a month’s notice, didn’t present a written report, leaving the impression he had nothing prepared to present to the committee — as Wyatt alleged.
Wardrop’s explanations didn’t satisfy Fielding, who has mounted a public campaign to kill all three projects and wants the money spent on new roads or road maintenance.
Fielding, who is considering a run for mayor in the fall, said Wardrop can’t produce data on ridership or commute times.
Wardrop told the committee — Fielding was in the gallery for Wardrop’s presentation — that the first phase of the corridor saved 8-10 minutes in commute time and that while he doesn’t have ridership numbers, actual revenue generated from ticket sales on the first phase has exceeded projections.
Like Wyatt, Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) questioned the $590-million estimate, adding given the city’s inability to keep some projects on budget, he had no confidence in the estimate as a reliable figure.
Wardrop said the first phase of the corridor project came in on time and on budget, at $138 million.
On the issue of a dedicated bus corridor versus light rail transit, Wardrop said he didn’t think Winnipeg has the population density now to accommodate light rail, adding he didn’t think it would be a good investment to build a light rail transit system before it’s needed.
Wardrop said the bus corridor, with additional costs, can be converted into a light rail system when the city determines it’s needed.