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Bus path to U of M cleared

Split council approves long-debated, $590-M transit plan

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The existing transitway that leads to Jubilee Avenue. The newly approved plan extends it to the University of Manitoba.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The existing transitway that leads to Jubilee Avenue. The newly approved plan extends it to the University of Manitoba. Photo Store

A 38-year effort to complete a bus corridor from downtown Winnipeg to the University of Manitoba has survived another vote on the floor of city council.

On Wednesday, a divided city council approved a $590-million plan to extend the Southwest Transitway and widen the Pembina Highway underpass at Jubilee Avenue with the help of federal and provincial funds.

But the 9-6 vote revealed misgivings on city council about the cost of the project, the wisdom of the business plan and lingering concerns next week's release of a city real estate audit may shed light on the Parker land swap, a 2009 deal that saw the city give up property alongside part of the route.

Mayor Sam Katz, whose time in office marked an ambivalence toward bus-corridor construction, emerged as the champion of a busway he still hopes will be converted into a light-rail line -- and serve as the genesis of a city-wide, rapid-transit network.

"It's not just the southwest rapid-transit corridor that's important," Katz said following the meeting. "Going out east is extremely important. There's all sorts of opportunity. And then of course you want to go north and you want to go west."

The plan council approved calls for the Southwest Transitway to be extended seven kilometres from Jubilee Avenue to Southpark Drive near the U of M and then enter the Fort Garry campus through the vacant land once occupied by the Southwood golf course.

The project calls for the construction of nine new transitway stations, three overpasses over major streets and both a rail-line underpass and transit tunnel. The city and province have committed $225 million each toward the project, while Ottawa is expected to provide the remaining $140 million through a fund devoted to public-private partnerships.

Among opponents, Couns. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) argued the cost was too high. Couns. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) and Justin Swandel complained the business plan was flawed. Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) suggested the indirect route alongside Fort Garry's Parker, Beaumont and Maybank neighbourhood may benefit landowners more than transit riders.

"This is more of a property deal than a transportation matter," Wyatt said after the vote.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said she would have preferred to see next week's real estate audit before she voted on the project.

Council was more decisive in a 13-3 defeat of a Browaty-Fielding plan to put the $590-million plan to a plebiscite in October. The two councillors wanted to ask Winnipeggers whether they preferred to spend the money on roads; they only received Wyatt's support.

The rest of council rejected the plebiscite for a variety of reasons. Swandel, who voted against the transitway funding, nonetheless rejected taking the plan to voters because he said council must take the lead on major decisions.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes decried the Browaty-Fielding motion as misleading, while Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said she was embarrassed by the entire debate.

At one point, Fielding suggested rapid transit was a cause célèbre for people who attend "fancy downtown cocktail parties" -- and Browaty mused self-driving cars will eventually make road construction cheaper.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2014 B1

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Updated on Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 9:55 AM CDT: Formats text

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