Rapid transit activists call it a route to nowhere, but Sam Katz says there's simply no money to finish a bus rapid transit corridor, and LRT makes more sense, anyway.
In an attempt to catapult rapid transit onto the civic election agenda, a small band of bus rapid transit activists staged a protest near the Jubilee overpass on Pembina Highway Wednesday. That's the terminus of the first, $138-million phase of the bus rapid transit corridor, now under construction. Until the city, Ottawa and the province resolve a complicated dispute over the cost and nature of rapid transit in Winnipeg, the corridor will end there.
"Jubilee isn't exactly a great destination, unless you want to have a beer at the Pemby," said Paul Hesse, spokesman for the Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition. "It makes no sense. (Mayor Sam Katz is) stopping it halfway."
It's been six years since Katz cancelled BRT the first time to redirect federal infrastructure dollars to recreation centres, and two years to the day since Katz and former premier Gary Doer stood at the Osborne Street transit garage and pledged to build a BRT system, starting with the first phase through Confusion Corner.
Late last year, Katz surprised many by again kiboshing millions in federal-provincial cash earmarked for the second phase of BRT to the University of Manitoba.
Katz says the real cost of the second phase has skyrocketed from $189 million to $270 million, though critics say that's plainly because Katz cancelled BRT when he was first elected.
Katz said Wednesday he needs another $50 million from Ottawa and the province to finish the southwest corridor. If Ottawa and the province ponied up more money for BRT "then we'd have something to really talk about," said Katz.
Meanwhile, Katz wants to redirect $130 million earmarked for Phase Two to roads and is lobbying Ottawa and the province hard for hundreds of millions of dollars in new money to transform the stunted BRT system into a flexible, rail-based streetcar system.
"I'm just waiting for the premier to go with me to Ottawa so we can close the deal," said Katz. "There is no delay (on BRT). There is no money to do the project."
"There's no money from him," retorted Hesse. "He wants to redirect it to roads not transit, and that, in the long run, means more sprawl and more potholes and no improvement to traffic or transit."
Mayoral challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis called Katz's new interest in LRT "a flip-flop on a flip-flop" and pledged to build the second phase of BRT within her first mandate as mayor.
Ottawa is skeptical of LRT-lite, and Premier Greg Selinger has said Winnipeg ought to proceed with BRT.