Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cloverleaf fire station OK'd despite concerns

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The new fire-paramedic Station  No. 11 inside the cloverleaf at  Portage Avenue and Route 90.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The new fire-paramedic Station No. 11 inside the cloverleaf at Portage Avenue and Route 90. Photo Store

As city councillors bicker about the release of a simple traffic study, it's worth a trip back to 2011 to see how city hall wound up in its latest fire-paramedic pickle.

Three summers ago, council's Assiniboia community committee considered the unusual matter of allowing a fire-paramedic station to be built inside the cloverleaf at the northwest corner of Portage Avenue and Route 90.

Officially, the study dealt with the closure of a nearby stretch of Century Street. This was a technicality required to pave the way for the construction of a new Station No. 11, which would replace the old Station 11 on Berry Street.

Shindico Realty, the firm the city selected to build a total of four new fire-paramedic stations, had identified the cloverleaf land as a means of saving the city money. Since the city already owned the land, building on this spot would spare the city the trouble and expense of acquiring a new location for the new Station 11 -- a purchase that would have blown the already strained fire-paramedic station replacement budget.

Former fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas said the cloverleaf location also provided an operational benefit. The proximity to Route 90 would allow emergency vehicles easy access to the north side of River Heights.

This was important because another fire-paramedic facility, Station No. 12, was being moved two kilometres to the south, from Grosvenor Avenue to Taylor Avenue.

The cloverleaf location seemed a creative, elegant solution to the problem of where to place the new Station 11.

The only wrinkle was the city's public works department couldn't stand the idea.

In 2011, while the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and the city's planning, property and development department were pursuing the cloverleaf plan, the public works department was quietly expressing dissent.

First, the department declined to assess the traffic implications of placing a fire-paramedic station inside a cloverleaf.

"There was no precedent for this," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We had no baseline data to use as a comparison."

The city wound up enlisting Stantec, a consulting firm, to conduct an "access management study" for the four new fire-paramedic stations. A revised version of its resulting report, completed in May 2011, came up with ways "to mitigate safety and operational issues inherent with locating the proposed fire hall within the Portage Avenue/Route 90 interchange," a report to the Assiniboia community committee two months later stated.

The precise nature of the safety and operational issues has never been disclosed, as the city has so far refused to release this study.

What is known is city traffic engineers warned against building Station 11 inside the cloverleaf, although the nature of their warnings were not disclosed to the community committee.

The July 2011 report to the committee stated "the public works department supports the approval of the application" based on Stantec's recommendations for dealing with the safety and operational issues.

 

Public works director Brad Sacher, however, did not place his name on the report, which was written by a property department official. Sacher also didn't appear before the community committee.

"What was conveyed at that point was there were some examples of where people had built a fire station on a cloverleaf," said St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, referring to cloverleaf facilities in South America, Europe and Asia. "Suffice it to say public works wasn't overjoyed with it."

While public works supposedly supported the location, traffic engineers with the department continued to raise concerns behind the scenes.

Current and former city officials contend traffic engineers Luis Escobar and Roy Hartmann objected to the Station 11 egress on Portage Avenue, as well as the station's entrance on the northwestern curve of the cloverleaf, where they feared private vehicles might enter the property at high speed.

It's safe to assume the city implemented Stantec's mitigation strategies. There is no evidence Station 11 is unsafe.

But since the Stantec study remains under lock and key, Winnipeggers have no way of knowing how serious the engineers' concerns about the cloverleaf were in the first place.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2014 B1

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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