Four years after Mayor Sam Katz and former premier Gary Doer announced the start of the city's first bus corridor, Winnipeg Transit is trying to determine how to finish it.
Transportation planners are in the midst of deciding which of two possible routes would work best to complete the Southwest Transitway, whose initial 3.6-kilometre first phase opened in May.
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The second leg of the busway will run between Jubilee Avenue near Pembina Highway to the University of Manitoba campus, likely running through the former Southwood Golf Course lands before it winds up near Investors Group Field, the future home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Where precisely it goes between Jubilee and the U of M has been the subject of debate since last summer, when a draft of the city's Transportation Master Plan revealed two possible alignments: straight down Pembina Highway or on an L-shaped dogleg through three Fort Garry residential neighbourhoods.
Earlier this week, Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop told city councillors his department is ready to ask residents of southwest Winnipeg which route they would prefer. A pair of open houses are planned for the Holiday Inn Winnipeg South on Sept. 19 (3 p.m. to 8 p.m.) and Sept. 22 (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
Mayor Sam Katz and chief administrative office Phil Sheegl have already issued tentative endorsements of the less direct route, which would utilize the mostly undeveloped Parker neighbourhood, as well as a vacant Manitoba Hydro corridor that runs alongside the Beaumont and Maybank neighbourhoods. This option has the potential to spark more housing developments that could generate new property taxes for the city, a fact sheet sent to councillors this week says.
Although the dogleg route is less direct, it is also touted as being faster and cheaper, as less property acquisition and bridge construction would be required, according to the fact sheet. But the dogleg is also a risky option, as it would not service existing apartments along Pembina Highway.
"This is where I get all messed up," said St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, who represents one of three wards that would be serviced by the line. He said he sees the merits of both alignments but insists it doesn't matter what he prefers -- only where Winnipeg Transit officials wind up as part of a $1-million process of planning the second phase.
In an impasse that's become emblematic of the relationship between Katz and Premier Greg Selinger, the city and province have not been able to devise a plan to pay for Phase 2's estimated $275-million price tag. Nonetheless, city council has committed to completing the corridor by 2016.
Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said she once thought the obvious way to do it would be to head straight down Pembina. Now, she's concerned that would preclude the possibility of building a bike-and-pedestrian path, as there is no room alongside the existing CN Rail Letellier line.
There is more room along the dogleg route, but that poses problems of its own, said River Heights Coun. John Orlikow. He's concerned there's no development plan in place for the Parker neighbourhood, which could also be home to an extension of the Sterling Lyon Parkway, never mind all the new housing that could sprout up along the hydro corridor.
"How can you conceptualize this when you have no idea how the development will play out?" he asked, insisting Beaumont and Maybank residents have no idea how their neighbourhoods will be affected.
"These are questions these people are going to want to know. And they won't get answers at the open house," said Orlikow, who said he urged the city to come up with a larger plan for Fort Garry.