Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bus corridor survives debate

But extension still lacks city council's approval

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Rapid Transit bus at the Osborne Station.

JORDAN THOMPSON / CANSTAR COMMUNITY NEWS FILES Enlarge Image

Rapid Transit bus at the Osborne Station.

Winnipeg's bus rapid-transit concept survived a furious debate at city hall Tuesday, but the completion of the bus corridor to the University of Manitoba campus has not yet been approved.

An attempt by Couns. Russ Wyatt and Paula Havixbeck to abandon the bus corridor in favour of a light rail system was rejected by an overwhelming majority of council in a series of votes.

The $590-million corridor project will now be the subject of a public hearing June 3 before it goes to council for a final vote at the end of June.

"I had no doubt in my mind" the bus-corridor concept would be supported by council, Mayor Sam Katz said. "This council has decided to move forward with bus rapid transit. I believe it's the right thing to do."

Wyatt (Transcona) and Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) proposed a plan that would have seen the city abandon construction of the second phase of the bus corridor in favour of an LRT system connecting downtown to Transcona and the U of M.

The LRT proposal had no routes, planning details or cost estimates, but Wyatt and Havixbeck wanted the concept sent to the city administration and committee for further study.

But a majority of councillors forced a debate that ultimately saw the proposal rejected by votes of 11-4 and 12-3, with only Couns. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) joining Wyatt and Havixbeck on the first vote and then Fielding alone on the second.

"This is a lost opportunity, but I don't think the debate is over," Wyatt said after the council meeting.

The first phase of the bus corridor, a stretch of 3.6 kilometres from Queen Elizabeth Way near The Forks to Jubilee Avenue near Pembina Highway, opened in April 2012 on budget and on time at a cost of $138 million.

The cost of the seven-kilometre second phase has increased several times since it was first proposed, to about $408 million from $275 million, and has become linked to two major related projects -- the $72.5-million reconstruction of the Jubilee Avenue underpass and $40 million of drainage along the corridor route.

The city has also projected $40 million in potential contingency increases.

The city and province have agreed to contribute $225 million to the megaproject. The city will apply for $140 million from Ottawa.

The corridor would be built as a public-private project, with a private construction firm designing, building and maintaining the bus corridor for several years and the city paying the contractor an annual fee before taking over.

While council's approval of the project now appears to be a formality, Browaty wants it halted and put to a non-binding referendum in the Oct. 22 civic election.

Browaty originally planned to force a debate on the referendum question at Tuesday's council meeting, but changed his tactic in hopes the public would put pressure on councillors to support the idea.

"This is an opportunity for Winnipeggers to get engaged over the next month and contact their councillors and let them know what they think," he said.

During Tuesday's debate, several councillors ridiculed the LRT proposal, saying the city was too far along with the bus corridor plan to switch.

"This is plain silly and irresponsible," Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said, echoing many comments from other councillors. Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said attempts to push the city into considering a light rail system would result in a lengthy delay of any rapid transit project.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2014 A5

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