Gord Steeves says Winnipeg cannot afford the second phase of the bus corridor transit route.
In a dramatic reversal from only three months ago, Steeves said Friday afternoon that if elected mayor he now would bring a motion to kill the $600 million project at the first council meeting following the October election.
Steeves had supported BRT as a councillor and he voiced his support for it again in late May when council was divided over the route, the plan and whether it should be expanded to a light rail project.
But that all changed Friday afternoon. Speaking from a spot near where the corridor is planned to follow the Parker lands, Steeves said that after further review "the BRT plan does not hold up and I can no longer support it."
Steeves said city council has not made any provision for the $20 million needed annually for 30 years to pay for the city's share of the project, adding he's concerned that will mean a four-five per cent property tax increase.
"I believe this project will do more harm than good," Steeves said, adding the controversial dogleg route alongside the Parker lands will negatively impact development on Pembina Highway between Bishop Grandin Boulevard and Jubilee Avenue.
Steeves said the current plan is a major change from what he had supported as a councillor, when the corridor route travelled entirely along Pembina Highway.
"We're essentially running a rapid transit line through an empty field....with virtually no chance of good development," he said. "Building this phase of BRT would be a monumental mistake for our city that would be one that we would regret for decades to come."
Steeves said the $600 million price tag and increased debt and borrowing costs can't be justified by the vague promises of a few minutes saving in commute time every morning.
Mayoral candidate Brian Bowman said he was surprised to hear of Steeves’ flip flop on BRT, adding it’s typical of the style of politics that has dominated city hall.
"It’s important for our elected officials to stand on principle and not just polling," Bowman, who supports completion of BRT, said. "I’m not sure what’s changed from a few weeks ago when former councillor Steeves indicated full support for rapid transit as well as the route, but what we’re seeing now is a pretty big flip flop in the middle of a campaign."
Steeves said it's not necessary to hold a referendum on the project, as proposed by Coun. Jeff Browaty, adding the election is the referendum and voters should cast their ballots based on the candidates' position on the transit corridor.
Steeves said he wouldn't support BRT even with a new route without the Parker dogleg, adding the money could be better spent on more urgently needed infrastructure projects.